Actual Play – The Score: Ancient Ones (5/10/2015)

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

Session one of our scoundrels in academia. Such good times!

Filling in the details

Before we started, I asked a bunch of questions. More about relationships and how they do this whole ghost passage thing. Here’s what we found:

Hix Stromfass

  • Salia, the information broker is a wealthy aristocrat slumming it in the Charterhall. She could probably go the the Academy, but for whatever reason enjoys gossiping with the “commoners”. She took an immediate and genuine liking to Hix, who she finds fascinating and wants to know all of her secrets…and shares those of her own in turn. They also enjoy get high on bloodneedle together when they have the chance.
  • Augus, Master Architect of the Foundation had been Hix’s patron for the past two years, but after a falling out between then, is now vexed by the upstart rail jack. Augus has rescinded his patronage, which means Hix now needs to find a way to pay her own tuition.
  • Harland is her roomate, and provided the introduction to Elke when they both agreed they needed money and together could make some!

Harland Younghusband

  • Harland’s family recently join the Hive, and could actually afford to send their own son to University. They expect him to be a great asset to the business when he has graduated. The money ultimately comes from the Hive however, so they may have other plays for the young alchemist.
  • Stras is a drinking buddy who likes to pull pranks with Harland, because he’s always game for some low brow vandalism and defacement. They have stolen school statues, made lewd graffiti, and otherwise been acted like perfect hooligans. When the chips are down though, Stras is quick with her blade, ready to literally cut and run with her friend.
  • Grace knows secrets about Harland (what secrets? we should ask next session) and has been using them to put pressure on him.
  • Harland is a junior member of the Path of Echos and studied at the Department of Spectral Philosophy, where several religious beliefs collide. There he met Elke, the natural born whisper, and the plan began to form!

Elke Salkaran

  • From a family of natural whispers on the Dagger Isle, Elke carries with her a lot of family hatred for one individual. Her great grandmother, the first very talented whisper in her family line, gained the interest of Edlund Scurlock, and after working with him, died shortly after. To this day, though it can’t be proved the Salkaran family blames Scurlock for her death. In contrast, Scurlock has a mystical connection to the Salkaran family line and will identify any of them on sight.
  • Nyryx, the ghost that “peacefully possessed” Elke during her passage from the Dagger Isles and Doskvol, and who taught her how to contain a ghost within herself without losing control to it, is both Elke’s friend and her living existing connection to home.
  • Elke’s tuition comes in the form of several grants and scholarships she received to attend the university. Her ability to manage life on her own however has been terrible. She doesn’t know how to feed herself, wash her clothes, or manage her finances. Much like many first year students at Charterhall.

Bible-Study-CandleThe Score: The Ancient Ones

Inside the Strathmill Hall, library study room #4 two university students waited nervously in the candlelit room. Walking slowly through the long shadows of the library corridors two more figures approached, one very excited, the other laconic. Nervous energy filled the room, that was until Elke appeared, late for the meeting, squeezing past the two figures who just arrived apologizing nonchalantly “sorry…I overslept.”

And thus opened our game!

Cricket, a young acolyte in the Path of Echoes was the buyer. She, on the behest patron called the Master of Secrets wanted our intrepid scoundrels to transport two ancient ghosts from the docks onto University grounds, that they might be consorted with to glean their wisdom. She brought a sailor, Master Slen Dallicore who was dressed in some incredibly ostentatious frippery and finery, who claimed to have the spirits contained on his vessel at the docks. All the scoundrels would have to do is pick them up and bring them to the school, without the notice of school officials…or you know, the Spirit Wardens.

Enamored with all things undead and hoping to elevate herself in the eyes of the Master of Secrets, Cricked had arranged for this purchase and had heard from Harland that this was a job our scoundrels were uniquely equipped to do.

Some fun things that happened during the meeting:

  • Harland being obsequious and awkward, sharing whispered bickering with Hix as they awaited Elke, and then argued over what was “normal” in this kind of situation (answer: nothing is).
  • Elke, upon hearing the job produced a giant laundry list of material needed, most of them very expensive, very strange, and primarily intended for her own amusement [Vice: Weird]. In the form of flashback later, she also asked Cricket the name of the two ghosts so that she might better compel them!
  • Hix kicking back with Slen, sharing a flask and pressing him to find out his story. It turns out his fancy attire is all rented on account of a new client that the captain has ordered all the officers to look a particular part for. Though he didn’t want to say his name aloud, Hix quickly deduced that they were working for Edlund Scurlock, and when she spoke his name Elke’s hackles immediately went up. This almost turned into an issue, Slen didn’t want to get in the middle of something ugly, but Hix and Harland quickly reassured him that all was well… with some hard “ALL IS WELL, RIGHT?” glares at Elke to boot!

blades_smoker_02Planning done Right

This is where Blades in the Dark shined so much. I asked them how they wanted to get the spirits to the school and the scoundrels quickly picked a transport plan, which seemed quite sensible given both their crew type (smugglers) and the job at hand. There wouldn’t be an obstacle to getting the ghosts, just moving them. I then asked for the route they would take. Again, the answer was pretty obvious. They had a canal boat, and with no reason to use another means, would take a direct path from the ship to the school building Cricked had asked them to deliver it to.

That all seemed well enough, so I started thinking about what obvious complications or obstacles they would have to overcome and the first thing that hit me was Spirit Wardens watching for ghost that had slipped through the lightning towers on by way of the void sea. We talked a bit about how wary they would be and decided they would have a standard level of attention to such details, thus starting with a 2D for the engagement roll. Since the Spirit Wardens are much higher tier (Tier 3 vs. Tier 0) I could also give them a die or two. Had they any reason to be suspicious or even aware of our scoundrels I would have made it two, but since the Doskvol Spectral Society is so unknown at this point, I only gave them one, thus bringing it to 1D.

We talked about what they could do to add a few dice to that and quickly our scoundrels decided to head to the Leaky Bucket, a tavern Slen had invited Hix out to during their chat, and see if any of the dockers there could help them prepare. As it turned out, in the heart of Crow’s Foot, the Bucket was principally filled with Lampblacks, all geared up for war, but still plenty savvy about Bluecoat activity.

Hoping that they might be humored by a couple of college kids trying to pull of a heist, the Blades consorted with these ex-lamplighters to see if they could and would help. And who knows if this is a good idea? The dice know. Also the devil knows. The devil’s bargain was that the Lampblacks took interest in them and would start a four part clock (with one tick filled in for the bargain) indicating they knew about the scoundrels activities and special abilities. And the dice said… this was a fucking amazing idea (Crit on their gather information check!). Cross, on of the lampblack lieutenants noticed the incredibly detailed map they were pouring over, loved that they had nicked it from the library, and immediately offered to compare notes with them by showing their much cruder map that nevertheless depicted Bluecoat activity (More on their map, Cross, and Tick Tock below).

Given their exhaustive information on the Bluecoat activity (and when do Spirit Wardens travel without Bluecoats in tow), we bumped up their engagement dice from 1 to 3. But way more importantly for me, we also created some new connections to play with down the line. How cool is that!

supp-galleonComplication Ensue

Using secret canal tunnels and talking the long way around Bluecoat inspected piers, the DSS carefully dodged the glaring bronze masks of the Spirit Wardens and docked their small boat a few piers down from the Lady Devera, where the were set to meet with Slen. The docks, even at night, were filled with sailors, dockers and street vendors all working their trade. Upon seeing them however Slen scattered all but his crew, sending the dockers for a smoke break, and quickly skirting the scoundrels onto the great galleon Lady Devera and then down into the lower decks.

The stale smell of void sea bilge water was overpowering and the wood showed signs of being blackened by years of exposure to blood and black water. The deck, which had no windows or portals into it was entirely dark, and only lit by the torch Slen carried down. Event that had gutted flames that cast strange shadows dancing across the floorboards.

At the end of end of the room, stood a lone metal cage, wrapped in a smarking silvery chains which trailed off to power source on the side, a barrel if flaming leviathan blood. This jury rigged contraption bound the spirits within it, but even from casual observation, it was clear that the crew of the Devera were not prepared for long term ghost storage. One good shake and the whole thing might fall apart.

Inside the cage, bound by the lightning arcing around it were four harrowed spirits, their vaporous substance depicting a memory of their existence in life; hard, leather skin naval officers, seasoned by years on the void sea. As they sensed the presence of the living they thrashed against their cage, each time, losing small bits of themselves burnt away by the electroplasmic lightning.

“Four ghosts? You said there was two!”

“Eh, two, four, with all their swirling between each other it’s hard to tell. Anyway, whatever you do, don’t leave them here. Last thing I need is a haunted ship.”

Enter the spooky shit

Slen, having disavowed himself of responsibility for ghosts left the scoundrels to do their business.

To figure out which were the ghosts they came for Elke donned her spirit mask, a leather engraved domino mask that had etchings from the Dagger Isles, attuned to the ghost field and called out Lucella and Vond Kardera, which stirred old hatred to the surface. The aunt and niece, both naval officers in the first unity war, had not heard their names in many, many years. They thrashed against the cage and it took all of Hix’s knowledge of lightning tracks and quick reflexes (which you thankfully get both of growing up in a family of Rail Jacks) to keep them contained.

Harland prepared himself by unbuttoning his shirt, taking a deep breath, and thinking happy thoughts. In a flash of electroplasmic lightning, Elke thrust her lightning hook through the cage, ensnared Lucella and thrust her into Harland. Her vaporous form exploded against his chest, and merged into his skin, contained by the ritual that Nyryx taught them. Elke repeated the process forcing Vond into herself. And then the felt…different.

Harland was suddenly aware of all the injustices and the slights that had been done to him. All the things he deserved but did not possess. He became envious of other’s possession and fearful of losing his own. Elke, meanwhile felt sick and weak, like she had a chest cold. One which would only dissipate after burning down everything in sight. Because of the ritual however, these were just urges, and not overpowering directives.

Hix, realizing that the remaining ghosts would escape once the barrel of leviathan blood burned down decided to use what was left of it to supercharge the lightning cage and cause it to disintegrate it’s occupants. With Harland’s help she poured the blood over the cage and created a fantastic lightning storm which not only destroyed the ghosts and wrecked the cage itself, it also sprayed electroplasmic fire all throughout the lower deck.  Feeling quite deserving of servants to do his bidding, Harland ran up to the upper decks and ordered deckhands to come down and extinguish the flames. Thankfully with plenty of bilge water on hand, they were able to do so before it caused irreparable damage to the Lady Devera.

Closing the episode

As it was getting late and we wanted to make sure we handled XP, we narrated over the sneaking back through the canals to the dank university building where the spirits were deposited, and jumped into rewards!

Good criming!

Places, People, Things, and Organizations

Strathmill Hall – A study hall inside the Charterhall University library named in honor of a generous donation made generations ago by the Strathmill family. The section of the library had been shut down years ago after a haunting that wreaked havoc on the student body and although the Spirit Wardens purged the hall of possessing ghosts, it’s still an area that most students, and faculty for that matter, tend to avoid. Bold scoundrels that they are, the DSS has made it their lair and place to plan their daring exploits.

Master Sten Dallicore – First Mate of the Lady Devera, a large merchant galleon, he is a scoundrel of low birth and a rough around the edges upbringing. A seaman all his life, Sten has recently been elevated to first mate status and come into a considerably amount of wealth because of the acquisition of a new client, Lord Scurlock. As part of putting on a good show for their new patron, however all of the sailors, under command of the captain, are now dressing up in the finest of attire, or at least the finest they can rent from Dundritch and Sons. Knee high boots, ruffled blouses, and three collar coats required by any who have to interact with Scurlock. Sten feels a camaraderie with Hix, who also grew up in a working class family, but is quite perturbed by Harland, who set his ship on fire!

Cricket – An acolyte in the Path of Echoes. She’s seen real power and wants to claim it for her own, but the life of a scoundrel proved too dangerous for her without the proper training. She’s been sponsored by one of the Bloodletters to attend Charterhall University and study spectrology, but she’s also fallen in completely with the Path of Echoes and now reverently upholds their very edict. At the behest of the Master of Secrets, she commissioned the Duskvol Spectral Society to transport two ancient ones from the docks where there are a lot of customs inspections the moment you get off a boat, to university grounds.

Lady Devera – An old war galleon that has long since retired and been retrofitted to be a merchant vessel. The cannon galley has been boarded up to use for cargo, and the smashed and sundered hull has been crudely patched rather than truly repaired. Deep in the lower decks, just above the bilge is a makeshift lighning cage, powered by a barrel of crude leviathan blood and assembled out of a steel cage reinforced by silver chains guaranteed to be a “top notch” conduit for electroplasmic fire. The cage was overcharged by the DSS as part of their efforts to incinerate the occupants, and now needs repair before it can function again. The black wood of the decks, stained by years of void sea are hard as stone, but as we found out, still susceptible to a sustained flame if enough fuel is provided.

Fine charts and maps – Someone, maybe it was Elke, maybe Harland, liberated one of the Charterhall University maps…and it isn’t any old map either. The base canvas layer is filled with lovingly detailed buildings, streets, canals, allies, and other features visible from the the crows eye view. However, in addition to that there are several very thing translucent layers made of alchemically treated eel membranes that can be rolled out over the map to provide greater details on specific subjects including hidden canal tunnels and now… typical Bluecoat activity on the docks. The maps still bear the Charterhall Universtiy seal

Cross – A Lampblack of some importance, who was absolutely enchanted by the quality of the DSS charts and maps. He happily instructed Tick Tock, another Lampblack to sketch out typical Bluecoat activity on the docks on their map, in exchange for copying some of the intricate canal details an topography from theirs. Cross has a thick mustache, a scarred face, and nurses and injured arm in a sling. Hard to tell how long it’s been like that. When Cross learned that our young scoundrels were smuggling goods into the University his interest perked of considerably…that is a market thus far untapped by the Lampblacks! [Clock: Lampblacks know about the ghost smuggling 1/4]

Tick Tock – A junior member of the Lampblacks that is skilled with a quill. She very delicately marked the areas of the docks that they know Bluecoats (and by extension potentially Spirit Wardens) will always be, and other places their patrol is thinner. When she asked about the map’s seal, Harland responded “It’s their ironically” and Elke quickly followed up “we bought it at an auction.” Good stuff! Note: Tick Tock is a total lightweight and can’t hold her liquor.

Lucella Kardera – Niece of Vord Kardera and once the gunnery sergeant of the Reefbreaker, Lucella is an ancient ghost that has gone completely mad over the ages. In life she fought in the first Unity War, but in death, all she seeks to to satisfy her need to control and own. She is territorial and containing her inside you emboldens the possessed body, even if the vessel does not yield control [As per the Ghost Passage move].

Vond Kardera – Captain of the Reefbreaker and aunt of Lucella, Vond hates all enemies of the emporer and now that she sees everyone alive as an enemy seeks nothing but destruction. When carried by Elke she felt sick to her stomach, as though she had a bad chest cold. She also was able to see the glory of the Lady Devera wreathed completely in flames, even though though the fire never got out of control.

What rocked

I love, love, loved all the mundane antics of college students working to pay their rent. Yes, they live in a haunted city and traffic in ghosts, but they also have to deal with roommates, and oversleeping, and grudges from deans. So much fertile territory here. I can’t wait to see more of their college life. Hopefully in downtime!

For a first session I felt like this went really smoothly. I had to run to my computer to look up engagement roll results and gather information results but that was it, and I can easily have those ready next time. Everyone at the table was super great about having the patience to learn the system together and excited to try out devil’s bargains, flashbacks, and anything else we ran into.

Oh my god, these scoundrels are so great. I love our entire cast and all the great connections they already have and the new ones they made. They all feel like real people who live in a real (well, sort of real) world.

Can’t wait to find out who wants to make use of their skills. The Hive? The Lampblacks? More professors or students in the school?

What could be improved

When Elke had a flashback with Cricket to learn the names of the ghosts, so that she could better identify them, she got a mixed result from the controlled action. I decided to have that put her in a risky situation when negotiation with the ghosts, specifically that hearing their names would enrage them and make them more aggressive. However…duh, dealing with ghosts in all but the best of situations will be risky, often desperate. So, when she tried to compel them I made it a risky roll, but that should have been a given. I think, in retrospect, given the slight degree of urgency and importance of these ghosts, I should have either started a clock related to them or just added some heat.

I’m considering who we would represent the costs of college, specifically to put the pressure on our scoundrels to be able to afford tuition. I can think of three ways of handling it:

  1. Allow consequences and/or entanglements might manifest as bills to be paid.
  2. Treat the University as a larger organization they have to tithe to (from page 20 of the quickstart, that means paying 1 coin per tier per score to the college)
  3. Creating an advanced permission along the lines of: When gain a patron to sponsor your education, you may enroll in Charterhall University [Add some cost structure, perhaps just tithing as in #2, as well as access to school resources]. I might also make this the really “advanced” option where it gives access to a cool move and indicates they are in graduate school, part of a secret society, etc.

I need a better name for the Department of Spectral Philosophy. It sounds too much like our crew name (Doskvol Spectral Society). The idea is the department would cover all the humanities (and inhumanities) including politics, culture, and religion, but through the lens of a city haunted by ghosts. Very open to ideas!


Has Elke’s view on ghosts changed or is she still unsure? What will the mood be like when she next sees Nyryx? Is she going to try and use the Sailors to get a lead on Scurlock or will she let that drop?

What’s up with Halfard’s obligation? What does it look like when he’s being a good merchant son? What are his parents interactions with the Hive like? How might they involve our scoundrels?

Will Hix and Slen continue to consort. They hit it off pretty well, but she did destroy his lightning cage and catch the Lady Devera on fire. Seems like there could be some sore feelings there.

How will the factions respond, if they even do at all, to this new crew popping up? Do the Spirit Wardens have any reason to know something happened under their noses? Probably not. The sailors though, they know about this whole deal. The Lampblacks don’t know what the Blades were moving, but they know they have connections to the college, which would be a new market for them. I bet the Hive would like to use their services too.

What neutral faction should take umbrage with them or otherwise inconvenience them? I rolled for entanglements and got:

Rivals. A neutral faction throws their weight around.
They threaten you, a friend or contact, or one of your vice
purveyors. Forfeit (1 rep or 1 coin) per Tier of the
rival, or stand up to them and lose 1 status with them.

I’m thinking about people they are neutral with but interacted with, at least on some level.

  • Sailors – It could stand to reason that they are upset about the lightning cage breaking or the fire, but the latter was contained and they otherwise got along pretty well. I don’t see that turning ugly over this.
  • Spirit Wardens – An obvious choice a) they already have negative faction status with them, so they aren’t neutral, and b) as we depicted it, they have no idea anything happened, at least not yet. The boat fire might have caused enough ruckus that they took notice.
  • Lampblacks – Certainly possible in the future, but as we left it Cross and Tick Tock were planning on doing using the scoundrels to ship drugs into the school. I guess they could play tough, but it seems unnecessarily brutal since the DSS seemed open to the idea.
  • Forgotten Gods (or a specific cult) – This one is making the most sense to me so far. One cult with a presence at the school that is jealous or upset that they brought the Karderas into the school grounds. We didn’t see this on screen though, so I’d be doing a bit of interstitial scene work to make it follow from the fiction.

Things to ponder before next game…

2 thoughts on “Actual Play – The Score: Ancient Ones (5/10/2015)”

  1. Bloodneedle! Love it!

    (Option 3 for handling ‘Costs of the College’ sounds pretty cool! And all entanglements options sound like good options.)

    Even though everything went super smoothly this session, I’m still uncertain about how some of the play works. Specifically job rolls and difficulty/effect. Sean explained the latter to us very clearly at the end of the session, but I didn’t absorb it and I definitely don’t have an intuition for what effect sizes represent. Job rolling, once it got going, seemed extremely fluid, but I wasn’t sure what would have happened if we had rolled excellently for our initial roll. If there weren’t any complications (to necessitate further rolls), would we have just walked away with the ghosts?

    I really, really, like the flashbacks supplanting planning. I still shudder when I think of a Mage session we had in which we killed, seriously, like two hours trying to optimize getting over a 15′ wall. (Solution: we got a ladder.)

    This is another game that grants XP for hitting goals/background/other flavor stuff. I understand that this is supposed to motivate a player to get more invested in their character and generate a more fun experience for the table as a whole. But. I think I’d still rather everyone just get the same amount of XP.
    1) Then no one even has the opportunity to feel like the didn’t do a good job. (Which they shouldn’t anyway – it’s impossible for everything to come up in a session – but I think it can still feel that way).
    2) People with different play styles aren’t penalized. (Sure, you could argue they should be reaching for a different game.)
    3) You avoid feeling like when you do something that would grant you XP, you’re doing it because it’s giving you XP. (Which seems somehow less genuine.)
    4) You avoid the awkwardness of the round of justification where people might choose to wheedle to try and get points.

    (As far as I’m aware) not a single one of these issues came up for us in this session, but they’re things I worry about with this mechanic in general. Maybe this game will change my mind! (I do like that in BitD you can also get points just for doing what you do best.)

    Favourite Bits:
    – Elke’s coming in late and her telescopic lightning and, especially, her naive and deadly devotion to a vow of killing Scurlock on sight.
    – Harland has a British accent! So great! Also, the scene with the baring of the chest for the slightly creepy intimacy of absorbing a ghost was fantastic. (All moments regarding Harland’s faith were actually.) Harland also gave Elke and Hix a wonderful opening by asserting to us that “We’re not doing this for the money are we?” Such a delight.
    – The NPCs! Cricket was adorably adroit, Slen was so cool and high-handed and then so relaxed, and the masked Spirit Warden was super creepy! Even though we never even interacted! I also loved the way the Lampblacks really dug into our map.

    Super fun session! Looking forward finding out the answers to some of those outstanding questions in the next!

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