Actual Play – Tension Playtest (6/18/2017)

Facilitator: Alex Roberts
Players: Kira Magran and Sean Nittner
System: Tension

Tension: the feeling when you really, really want to, but really, really shouldn’t. This simple, intimate game uses an increasingly unstable tower of bricks to represent irresistible but forbidden attraction between two characters. You’ll tell the story of how their tension fades, falls apart, or consumes them completely.

Tensions is Alex’s super awesome game of flirting and restraint. It uses the stacking block tower to build on it’s namesake.

Kira and I played a Werewolf (Michael) and Vampire (Dina), who passionately craved each other despite knowing the monstrosity that would be born of our union. As scions of our clans we were pitted together, always alone, to negotiate a peace between the vampires and the werewolves, but instead we let the world burn to slake our bloodlust.

Oh, and a bunch of friends were watching Ultimate Beastmaster right next to us, regularly shouting and lamenting as their heroes rose and fell. If that isn’t enough to make for the most ridiculous, but still super tense game, I don’t know what is!

What Rocked

This was totally Underworld and Kindred and every other Vampire/Werewolf story mashed up in a beautiful tangle of goth and rage and suffering and desire. I think I reached my peak Judd Nelson in this game.

The scenes we framed in a graveyard, behind a red velvet curtain, soaked in the blood of our elders, speeding in a car through the city streets at night. All so great and iconic, but also all so wonderful as a backdrop for our intimate conversations.

Kira is fucking amazing. The way she played Dina. Wow. Should should have been the lead, and me the follow!

I like playing with stacking blocks and drawing them out slowly, pausing in the middle of my pull to add something to the fiction. This game really rewarded that. A lot!

This game is so well designed. Hats off to you Alex. It takes the best part of Hot Guys Making Out and Dread and then add a laser focus. I’m super impressed at how well the simple instructions and game mechanisms work. So good!

What could have improved

Wow, I have the brooding and lashing out part but I felt at a loss for saying things deeper than “Dina… we can’t do this…” I mean, we had the looks and with the right lighting and sound track, it still would have made for a killer vampire werewolf move, but I could use some coaching on dialog!

Actual Play – Everyone’s a Suspect Demo (6/17/2017)

Everyones-a-SuspectGM: Kristin Firth
Players: Sean Nittner, Fred Hicks, Carrie Harris, and Ian Hanrahan
System: Everyone’s A Suspect

Kristin gave a 30 minute demonstration of Everyone’s a Suspect. We played through some lighting rounds, first just narrating scenes, then roleplaying them, and in the end all of us were guilty of something! It was a great game and I’m very excited about it’s future!

The consensus from our players!

Actual Play – Kagematsu (6/17/2017)

Facilitator: Sean Nittner
Kagematsu: Angela Robertson
Townswomen: Greg Klein, Anna Langlinais, Geoffrey Becker, Jeff Kosko, and Sean Nittner
System: Kagematsu by Danielle Lewon

Another game of Kagematsu at Games on Demand. Yes!

Angela signed up because she said she wanted to run the game herself and wanted to learn the system. So what better way than to be Kagematsu!

Angela was so wonderful!

Some of my highlights:

  • Kagematsu being very slow to respond with whether or not an affection was granted… Angela teased it out wonderfully.
  • One of the townswomen trying to frame a scene and then being reminded that only Kagematsu can do that.
  • Angela reveling in the the power she held!
  • How Kagematsu turned two of our tailors against each other!
  • Once again, playing an irreverent townswman. This time a rice farmer who spent all day gossiping and smoking tobacco with a friend behind the shed.
  • The difference in outcomes. Last game we defeated the threat, and Kagematsu left with the one he loved move (me!). This game tow of the townswomen (myself and Jeff’s character) sacrificed themselves and the town’s fear was still too great. Kagematsu died, the village was burned down by bandits, and everyone had to flee. This game delivers!

What Rocked

See above!

Also, now Angela is going to run it for her group. Yay!

What could have improved

That cherry danish thing I brought (see pic below)… that was a sticky mistake.

I probably should try playing a character that isn’t just a troublemaker sometime. Sometime…

Actual Play – Sword Kids (6/17/2017)

GM: Sean Nittner
Players: Morgan Ellis, Mike Olson, Austin Lemke, and Kevin Lemke
System: Blades in the Dark
Score: Doskvol Riots

In which we learn that every once in a while, with perhaps a bit if GM encouragement, Blades might actually try to make a difference and make things better in Doskvol. They’ll do it by kidnapping rich people’s (adult) children and holding them ransom, but they’ll do it to make a difference!

In my Doskvol Riots score there is an option for what kind of score you want to do which reads:

Creating Change. You believe in the cause. Who do you care about and how have they suffered? Who needs to go down for things to change? What will you do to them? Ask the  Creating Change. You believe in the cause. Who do you care about and how have they suffered? Who needs to go down for things to change? What will you do to them? Ask the GM how they are prepared for you. 

Before this game everyone who read that option said some variation of “hah, as if!” and them moved onto one of the other two more self interested options (Smoke Screen and Supplying one Side). However when Mike Olson was deciding which option to take (we pass the sheet around the table allowing people to make choices and then others to answer the question in italics) he actually considered choosing that option and with a bit of a nudge he went for it!

The Situation

The Coalridge Minors have been trying to form a union for years, and union breakers (like our crew here, the Sword Kids) have been making sure that didn’t happen. Under the employment of Foreman Slane, they’ve been leg breaking and fire making to keep would be organizers from… organizing.

But that changed when Bell Brogan, a noble who gave up her life of luxury to join the coal miners and organizing them to throw off the shackles of their cruel employers, started causing trouble for Foreman Slane. To shut them down Slane had the Sword Kids light fighter to a building known to house many of the coal miners. Few were hurt in the fire it (it was lit while everyone was at work) but all of these families lost their homes and their possessions. Slane meant it as a message, to turn the tide of dissidence, but his actions were only fuel on the fire!

Meanwhile, Slanes employer, Laudius Bowmore arrived on Coalridge announcing a relief effort to help all the now homeless members of Coalridge. He and his family were also going to host a town hall to hear all of their grievances. The Sword Kids however, knew this was all for show. The Bowmore’s didn’t care about the people, they just wanted to quell the rioting. They would make empty promises that would never be filled, and once again convince the miners that their best option was to go back to work, accept what meager scraps could be offered to them, and in all other ways accept a worse life than they had before.

The Sword Kids

Bell, who was actually part of a noble family, grew up with Adric Keel, another noble whose parents never expected anything of him, but who wanted to make a difference. Much to his parents dismay, Adric joined the Bluecoats, and because of his lineage, was instantly appoint as a watch commander. Because he didn’t spend much time on the street, it took him a while to realize that the Bluecoats were just criminals with a chain and a fancy coat. And when he tried to expose the corruption he found it went all the way to the top. He also found out that the squeaky wheel gets the grease hammer. He was kicked off the force and disowned by his parents for being such a disgrace.

Adric, who had been given the name “Blue” by every criminal on the street who still thought he was a Bluecoat at heart hooked up with his drug dealers (hey, he might want to make a change, but that doesn’t make him an angel) Timoth, who in turn brought along two Skovlanders, who smuggled the drugs, Skannon and Brace. This sad lot had all been beaten up by Doskvol in one way or another. Brace was a Skov refugee that got gang pressed onto the Nightbreaker, Lord Strangford’s notoriously dangerous to crew Leviathan Hunter. Skannon, who had fought beside Brace in the Unity War, signed on voluntarily to get him off the ship, but needed both Blue and Timioth’s help to do it.

Since then, the Sword Kids had fallen in with Foreman Slane, doing work Adric never thought he would, until it went to far and they turned against their employer.

The Score

To make a difference they would:

  • Convince Bell she needed to lay low (a Flashback once they realized that assassins were hired to remove her)
  • Break into the Bowmore’s estate in Coalridge (they only stayed there when making a civil gesture or when their family home was undergoing repairs)
  • Poison and kidnap the Bowmore children (who were 17 and 19 and first put up a formidable resistance in the form of a sword fight)
  • Convince the housekeeper not only that she should stay quiet but she remembered Adric from when he was young, and that “I didn’t set out to do crime” but now crime was the only way to make thinks better, and that she should help them escape the house with the two paralyzed Bowmore’s in tow.
  • Create a fantastic explosion as a diversion to distract the rioters outside and sneak to a boat which they had waiting nearby to sneak away with the price.

What Rocked

I really liked the use of clocks in this game. We had several tensions rising around the people being mollified, Bell being assassinated, and, Bell who they called a friend, learning that the started the fire. I was particularly impressed that when the “Assassinate Bell” clock was 3/4 full, Timoth called for that flashback to warn her that they were about to do something dangerous and that she should watch her back. It caused all kinds of tensions between them (she wanted to lead the resistance) but with a lot of work they won her over and knocked that clock down and kept her alive.

There was some really morally grey areas here, but I wanted the players to decide where the stood. This was the first group I’ve seen that actually said they wanted to do some good, and it was great watching them try despite how hard it was. And even then, poisoning a noble’s children and kidnapping them, it’s hardly behavior that you can excuse, but to them it was for a greater good. I wouldn’t call the Sword Kids “good” people, but having the discussions they did in game (and in character) was really wonderful.

The crew’s name came as this off handed comment. Something like “Do all you kids have swords?” and then it just turned into, yeah, we’re the Sword Kids. And boom, crew name!

What could have improved

I felt like I got really good hooks in the game for Adric/Blue, and towards the end for Timoth, but not so much for Skannon and Brace. I think it’s an easy crutch for me in a con game to grab onto one character’s heritage or background and play off that, when I should really be doing a better job of incorporating them all in.

Actual Play – Kagematsu (6/16/2017)

Facilitator: Sean Nittner
Kagematsu: Kristin Firth
Townswomen: Alex Roberts, Mengu Gungor, Michael Donovan, Allen White, and Sean Nittner
System: Kagematsu by Danielle Lewon

It is Japan 1572, the end of the Senguko period of history. Like many transitions of power the country is filled with strife, warring factions pulling any able bodied men into war, leaving villages populated by only women, children and old men.

Now a small, nearly indefensible village is living under the horror of a dangerous threat that casts its long shadow over the village. Without a defender, its people are almost certainly doomed.

Enter Kagematsu, a wayward ronin fleeing a troubled past. Here is a defender for the village, if only he can be swayed from his meandering course. So it is that several young women conspire among themselves to win his affections and steer him to their cause…

I’ve been wanting to play or run Kagematsu since I bought it in 2011. Yikes. That’s been a while! One of the key components of the game is that the character of Kagematsu, who opens all the scenes, and who all the townswomen seek affection from, must be played by a woman. Because Kagematsu opens scenes and because he assigns each townswoman either love or pity at the end of each scene (which affects the difficulty of them gaining affection in future scenes) they have a very GM-like role. I wasn’t sure about running it in Games on Demand both because I would need at least one woman to sign up for the game and also because I would need to as her to take on this responsibility.

Kristin, however was eager to do both, which made me really excited to facilitate!

Our Village

A lakeside village far from the beaten path surrounded by a pastoral forest. The village was known for it’s lakeside fishing as well as woodcrafts, particularly their flutes!

We were threatened by a recent shortage of fish as we had no other primary food supply.

Our characters

Kagematsu, a handsome middle age man with a scar on his face. He rode a good horse, and those that paid extra attention could tell he walked with a slight limp.

Yuna, the bowl-maker from a family of bowl-makers, who loved the shrine to the lake spirit and a beautifully engraved comb.

Ayame, the village midwife, recently appointed to the position when the previous midwife died. Ayame was very young and unsure of her position in the village,  but sure of her trade.

Akiko, the cemetery caretaker, who regarded all the the spirits with great reverence.

Junich, an apprentice flute maker, who loved being among the trees behind the village and listening to the wind waft through them.

Fumi, the wood collector who disliked her job. Her favorites were a young boy named Toshi, who was the town rascal, and being out on the water.

The Play is the Thing

Play in Kagematsu is done in turn based order with each townswoman asking for an affection (anything as simple as a smile or stolen glace, up to a roll in the hay or a confession of love) and then Kagematsu framing a scene in which the townswoman may attempt to win this affection from him.

Because each scene can generate love (which reduced the difficulty in future rolls) and because each affection grants the townswoman a desperation (such as showing Kagematsu disdain, or questioning his honor) the game rewards you for taking it slow and having many scenes with Kagematsu. However, because you can attempt to gain multiple affections in a scene, my experience was that players often wanted to do that. There is a bit of a push you luck mechanic involved as well. Each townswoman has a fear stat which goes down each time they gain affection, however if they ever fail to gain affection, then the scene ends and they don’t reduce their fear for any of the affections they did gain that scene.

There is a fair bit of work that Kagematsu has to do tracking all the the townswomen and their favorite things, along with his love or pity for them all. I noticed in this game and in the one after it that the player playing Kagematsu was making extensive notes. It all paid off in play though, as Kristin’s Kagematsu was great at reincorporating things that were already known about the other character or things that happened in play. The game was so much fun.

What Rocked

I really loved (you’ll see this in the next game as well) playing a recalcitrant townswoman. I slacked off on my, acted inappropriately, and generally clowned around. It’s a selfish role to play, because someone (or many someones) really have to play the game straight for it to work, so I have many thanks to all my other townswomen for giving me a platform to spring from.

Kristin commented while she was playing that she had so much power. Yay, working as intended!

We had some really tender and sweet scenes where Kagematsu gave the affection that the townswomen wanted and some really cold scenes when he refused them. The mechanics of the game pushed towards this uncertainly really well, as well as pushing towards using desperation and turning the nature of the relationship with Kagematus more fraught. Loved it.

Kristin has this amazing backstory for Kagematsu that was revealed in snippets throughout the game, it was so much fun to find out her history for him!

What could have improved

As a first time facilitator I felt pretty clumsy through most of the game. I needed to refer back to the book often to understand the procedure of play.  Thankfully the other players were very understanding and we spent a lot of time passing the book around the table reading passages from it!

Actual Play – The Nail and Bottle (6/16/2017)

GM: Sean Nittner
Players: Pamela Alexander, John Alexander, Clark Valentine, and Jeff Kosko
System: Blades in the Dark
Score: Doskvol Riots

Skovlan Refugees are rioting because the brigade watched as their homes went up in flames. What will our scoundrels do about it? Claim turf in the midst of the carnage!

My notes for this game are scattered, so we have a bunch of puzzle pieces here, which might just all fit together (or might not):

  • Bazso Baz, secretly a lover, wants to retire. Gone missing after the fire.
  • Flint, used to move spectral product together with our Whisper Echo.
  • LaRose the Bluecoat, a smug cur who loves to feel superior.
  • The Nail and Bottle, used to belong to the Lampblacks, now run by the Bluecoats.
  • Target: Casslyn Slane, a minor noble assigned to be watch commander of a Bluecoat regiment, trying to advance up the ranks and get out of this crappy job.
  • Melvir, used to run the Nail and Bottle Drav Maroden, friend of the crews. Used to run the Nail & Bottle, now run by Drav Maroden, a Bluecoat.
  • Echo rallied up a group of cultists (Vestine, Orlan, Kelyrn, and Wicker) and together they assaulted the Bluecoats in the Nail and Bottle.
  • The Nail and Bottle was barricaded because of the riots. People killing each other in the streets and the Bluecoats doing nothing about it except saving their own skins.
  • The job was smooth, our cutter got a job as a bouncer. Our Skovlan hound went in as bait (he knew he’d get picked on, which they used pretense for starting the fight). Our slide sneaked in the back with our Whisper.
  • It all went down in a bloodbath, but eventually Casslyn was slain and the Nail & Bottle was theirs for the taking!

What Rocked

It was freaking awesome to game with John, Pamela, Clark, and Jeff. I know my notes are spotty, but I do remember vividly how well they portrayed their characters.

What could have improved

Dang, not only did I not take pictures of my notes, I also lost most of them, so I had to put this together mostly from memory. I’m still digging for those index cards!

Actual Play – The Church Job (6/15/2017)

GM: Sean Nittner
Players: Carl Schnurr, Rob Donoghue, Chad Patterson, Aaron Sturgill
System: Blades in the Dark
Score: Doskvol Riots

I brought the riots to Origins and a riot we had. The Spirit Wardens, everyone’s favorite bogeymen, had burned a witch to break the will of the conscripted Leviathan Hunters, and it had of course, gone horribly wrong.

Elsabeth, a student at Charterhall had been speaking on behalf of the rights of Doskvol citizens and revealing the injustices inflicted upon the citizenry, particular those forced to sail the void sea. When normal methods of silencing her failed, the Spirits Wardens escalated to dire measures and they used the Heart of Kotar, an artifact that was presumed missing, to light a fire that would utterly destroy a demon engulfed in it, and burned Elsabeth on top of it, under the auspices of her being a demon herself.

When this happened the citizens were pushed too far and with Kolin as their leader, took to rioting in the streets of Brightstone, surrounding The Sanctorium, watching the fire that burned not 100 yards from it’s doors.

And my scoundrels used that as a smokescreen to sneak into the Sanctorum from the canals below, make off with the Bank of the Dead (material property taken from the dead), and zip line out of a belfry just as the bombs that Kolin and his crew planted went off!

What Rocked

This was my most Leverage-style of Blades games I’ve run. Rob really figured out how to make flashbacks and his Spider’s forsight work in awesome ways. The did the church job and they did it with style.

A fun twist that we didn’t end up using, but I liked just the same, was that the Lampblacks were working with the Leviathan Hunters to press gang citizens by taking the drunkest (and often the worst customers) and getting them on the ships after they’ve passed out.

What could have improved

Because they were so good at evading people we had very little NPC interaction, which is where I think my strengths lie. Most of the challenges were against the environment, or the encroaching threats. The challenges were solid, but they felt but their nature, less interesting that those with people involved.

Related to that, though the riots are meant to be central to the score (and they were certainly the impetus for the score happening in the first place) they felt far away from the action. There is some sense to that though, the players chose the “smoke screen” option, and they allowed the riots to run unimpinged and they robbed the church while everyone inside was distracted.

Actual Play – One Last Job (6/14/2017)

GM: Mark Diaz Truman
Players: Sarah Richardson, Liz Chaipraditkul, Brendan Conway, Karen Twelves, and Sean Nittner
System: Blades in the Dark
Score: One Last Job

Mark reached out just before Origins about trying out a on shot Score at Origins. Karen and I were pretty intrigued, always curious what folks are doing with Blades!

Marks setup was a very cool one (in fact, I’d like to bottle it up in a one page score if he’s interested). We were all hardened criminals who had a powerful crew, but we got sold out by one of our own and served a long time in Ironhook. Now that we’re out all our old resources have dried up, been acquired by others, or otherwise turned against us. All we have is each each other and a healthy appetite for revenge against the one that sold us all down the river.

Mechanically to show this Mark did two cool things.

  1. He asked us all questions about our crew and about the person who sold us out. In this we developed both our crew background and our future score.
  2. He told us all to take one trauma for being in Ironhook and then offered us all extra action dots and special abilities at the cost of additional trauma, which I think is a really eloquent way of depicting progression in a Blades game. By the end of character creation all but one of us were teetering on the edge of of being lost to our vices. We were a cold, vicious, unstable lot!

Mark also let us play with the advanced playbooks, so Karen play a vampire named Skannon Rockport, the product of a botched job by my Whisper. When Cross, a Skovlan woman died in Ironhook, Una forced her soul into the body of someone who was about to get out, one Aldo Vale! Aldo is an Akrosi man, and though Skannon is in full control of the body, Aldo’s thoughts and personality kept bubbling to the surface. Skannon continued to go by her old alias Cross, even when in Aldo’s body. The challenges she faced returning to his old home life and trying to desperate her memories from his were amazing.

We figured out that our crew mate Vond was too stupid to ever come up with a scheme like this, but that she had made a deal with Lord Strangford to deliver a demon to him, and part of that deal was also giving us all up. Because of this, and because of my mad love/hate relationship with Strangford, I decided to play Una Stanford, the lord’s disowned daughter. So good!

What Rocked

Mark had us figure out what our actual score would be build-a-bear style by going around and having each of us gather some information about the score (robbing Vond) and thus also detailing the world. This was really smart because by the end the whole setup felt much more personal and real, and our goal was super clear. It also let us establish that Vond was completely a puppet of the demon now, and thus we had to decide if we wanted to ally with the demon, avoid it’s notice, or openly defy it. Take a guess what a horribly traumatized group would do.

Being the bad asses that we were, this game was full of a ton of flashbacks that made every step we made make sense. Even when we botched a roll and ran into trouble, the flashbacks showed how it was part of the plan, or how we were prepared for it. I love that mechanic in general, but with this group we made it really sing.

Despite being some really hardened people, I loved our crew’s loyalty to each other. We’re all we had left!

Mark’s depictions of NPCs is so great. Our old caretaker was earnest in want to take care of us, but being to beat up and too far out of the game to really do any help. Vond was earnest in being completely out of her depths with the deal she arranged. She was a de facto cult leader but had no idea what her cult was all on about. It was Fight Club where she was Ed Norton/The Narrator and the Demon was Brad Pitt/Tyler Durden.

The radiant plans that emitted a sedative in the air… how fucking cool is that!

Mark’s demons are way the heck scarier than mine. I mean, really damn scary. *shudder*

“She was so simple when she came to me, You think you can take her from me. Do not change what I’ve made!”

What could have improved

Though I loved my relationship with Cross (the Whisper that saved her spirit by doing a botched possession) because of our seating arrangement and because of being the “weird” one I had some trouble figuring out bonds with other characters. I intentionally framed some of my scenes with Rail and Skinner, but overall didn’t feel like I made as strong of bonds as I could have. When Brendan used the the Mastermind ability to LITERALLY take a bullet for me, I was delighted as all heck, but wished I had a scene before that where we established our ties to each other more.

Actual Play – A Crow Funeral (6/18/2016)

Crow FuneralFacilitator: Jon Cole
Players: Karen Twelves, Brodie Atwater, Sean Nittner
System: A Crow Funeral

After back to back games of Blades in the Dark I was exhausted. I went to find Karen, who had just finished up her larp and I saw that see seemed positively giddy about playing another game with Jon and Brodie. I was super dubious because I was so tired, but they promised it was a short game, so hey, let’s give it a shot.

We played A Crow Funeral by Tim Hutchings, which was  larp submission to the 2015 Golden Cobra Challenge. Here’s the brief blurb from the start of the PDF:

A Crow Funeral is a game for 2+ players which can play in 10-30 minutes. The game is intended for a busy space, like a convention or mall or the outdoors. Players should know that the game involves touching hands and people being shouted down for speaking out of turn.

In A Crow Funeral the players will take the roles of opinionated crows arguing the cause of death of a member of their murder. At the beginning of play players will split apart for a short while, then come together and join as a group. The game uses a simple hand stacking mechanic guiding who can speak at any given moment. There is no conflict resolution mechanic.

Actual Play

A game about yelling “hey, hey, hey” at each other and flying around like crows. Okay, I’m sold.

We went to just outside Big Bar II and followed the instructions:

After acquainting ourselves with the rules we will begin the game by spreading out, traveling in different directions for one minute. At the end of that one minute of travel we will stop in a safe place; this is our home. Around us is the environment we have spent our crow lives, these are the things to which we are acclimated and do not fear. Players will spend two minutes standing still and observing this environment while thinking peaceful, safe thoughts. Ask yourselves: What do I eat here? Where do I sleep? How do I spend my time?

Study the objects, the motion, the people around you. Listen to the sounds, smell the air. Nothing here is a threat.

While sitting in their home the crow should find a small object of some sort which can be used as a token: A pebble, a piece of paper, a stick, anything that conveniently fits into the palm of the hand. This object should be clean and safe to handle. If the player is uncomfortable taking something from the environment they may use something of their own, such as a coin or a die.

After the two minutes have elapsed all the crows will return to the play area for the funeral. As crows arrive they should arrange themselves back into their circle. When most of the crows have arrived the funeral will begin.

I ran into the bar itself, found a soy sauce packet that was left over on a table and then found a little place away from people and watched a boxing match that was projected on the all above me. I saw the people talking and was surprised to go largely unnoticed. One friend said hi, but otherwise I was able to think about my life as a crow there.

When I returned we found the dead crow and argued about how it died. The argument only took a few minutes, but it did include me throwing a fit when my theory wasn’t accepted and leaving the murder. This made me an outsider and I spent the rest of the game harassing the crows in my former murder, but I would never be a part of them again.


This game is very smart because it asks specific questions during the debrief.

What informed the arguments of the crows? Will they actually be safer for what was learned at the funeral? If there was a split in the murder, how will those different beliefs affect crow society?

Did anyone drop their token to remain with the murder? What did this represent?

Whose hands were usually at the top of the stack? Whose were at the bottom? Did the people who were mostly at the bottom feel respected during the funeral?

Who is speaking the most during the debrief? Is there a correlation between how people are speaking now and how they spoke during the game?

Smart stuff here! You should check it out.

Actual Play – Roric Returns (6/18/2016)

ghost_titleGM: Sean Nittner
Players: Virgil Daniel, Gary Mengle, Joe Zantek, Paul Arezina
System: Blades in the Dark, Quickset Rules v.6

Third and final slot of Blades at Origins. Such a blast to run but because I’ve gotten so far in actual play reports, we’re getting the highlights I can remember from my notes!

  • Hamish, the Skovlan ex-soldier had no home and no prospects after the Unity War. He was staying with an Apothecary named Satisa and they went from landlord and renter to lovers after facing an altercation together. Malista an evangelical priestess of the Path of Echoes began preaching (read: shouting) outside of Satisa’s shop driving customers away and causing a fright. Melissa spouted that the Emperor’s lands were only meant for the Akorosi, and the filthy immigrants from Skovlan had no place here. Together Hamish and Stasia drove her off but not before finding that she was acting behalf of Vond Kardera, a powerful and ancient ghost of a naval captain that claims to have served under the Emperor herself! [Leech]
  • The titanic right hand of the Crows gang leader Roric, Walls was affectionately named because he absolutely could not be gone through. As a tall man with a deep voice and few words, many including Roric took Walls for an imbecile, when infact was was quite astute and was happy to allow folks to underestimate him. When Roric was found dead in the canals, his second in command Lyssa took over the gang and in effort to cement her hold she put a bounty on Roric’s killer. Claiming that he knew Roric best, Lyssa sent Walls to find any witnesses who might know Roric’s killer and bring them directly to her, and not to listen to any excuses or lies they might tell Walls. [Cutter]
  • Savannah, another Skovlader, found a place for herself in Crows Foot among the Lampblacks when she helped out Bazso Baz. He felt affectionately for one of his crew named Clave, but worried he would appear weak or to be taking favorites if he took Clave as a lover. Savannah helped smooth the ripples over with the crew, and Bazso owed her for her help. [Slide]
  • The women who went by Ms. Nobody certainly used to be a somebody. A trader in fine Iruvian spices and fabrics to be sure, based on all she knew about them. But also one conversant in spirit trafficking and moving other illicit goods [Spider]

2016-06-18 23.28.57The Score

Seeking reward for Lyssa, and hopping they could get the Crows and the Lampblacks to team up against the Red Sashes (who have some personal grievances with our scoundrels as well due to some orders of Irruvian spirit essences that never made it to their final destination).

Walls offered to lead up the search for Roric’s killer, which Lyssa was fully behind because she neither knew that he had made new friends, nor that he was half as smart as he really was.

Knowing that the zealot Malista was connected with the Path of Echos, and could help them, our Blades disguised themselves and conned her and her two Hollow attendants into summoning Roric’s ghost. The process required three living creatures to attune to the ghost field. One to summon, one to speak, and one to listen. Although Ms. Nobody was familiar with spectrology, the third member of their ritual (the Hollows watched over but could not contribute) was Savanah, who was just making it up as she went along.

The summoning disaster culminated in Malista being drowned in the same place that Roric died, the other Hollows being grievously injured, and Walls being possessed by his former boss and friend. Once inside Roric was quick to tell all of them that it was Lyssa who slit his throat and pushed him into the canal but now that he had a new body, he was going to take back control of the Crows!

What could go wrong?

What Rocked

How cool is it when you used to be muscle for your boss, you are now literally muscle (and skin and bones and organs) for your boss! I would have loved to see how all of that turned out in a follow up game!

What could be improved

I forget the details here but I think I required too many steps to get the job done. To find Roric’s host they wanted someone familiar with them, but since Malista was an enemy, they had to figure out a way to trick her into helping them. However the trick involved finding someone else (Andrel?) to set up the meet. It was all good heist stuff but I felt like I was calling for too many rolls to frequently. I think it’s important to remember to keep saying yes until you think something really interesting might happen should the scoundrel’s fail!

[Note: in this discussion, I’m speaking only about gender presentation, not gender assigned at birth. So when I say men I’m referring to cis men, trans men, and male presenting individuals of any gender].

This isn’t about this game in particular, but I’ve noticed a trend regarding the gender of of my Blades in the Dark players: it skews pretty heavily towards men. At Origins the other games I played in featured people that used she/her or they/them pronouns, but Blades was all he/him. Looking back at my AP reports shows that my home games have a pretty good gender balance, but in other Blades games I ran at cons, it’s been much of the same as it was at Origins. Frustrating.

I talked to Kristin Firth, Bill White, and Kira Magrann about this a fair bit after my games to figure out why my Blades audience skews so strongly toward male players. The action of the game is strongly associated with male power fantasies: sneaking, thieving, murdering, skulduggery, and the rest. And while these actions can be performed by anyone, media tells us over and over that these are actions taken by men (Ocean’s Eleven, The Departed, The Godfather, Heat, Reservoir Dogs, The Usual Suspects, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, James Bond, etc). And the real tragedy is that Blades does have a really good gender balance in it. If you look at the major characters, many (maybe most) of them are women, non-binary, or otherwise not men. Mylera Klev is a master duelist who leads the Red Sashes. Lyssa just murdered her way to the top of the Crows, Arcy Keel is a brutal ex-Leviathan Hunter, The Dimmer Sisters are dominating the spirit trade, Lady Drake is a magistrate on the payroll of criminals, Brynna Skyrkallan is the resident diplomat of Skovlan, and the list goes on.

My next Blades project, which I’m going to work on with Kira will be to offer a short playset, score, or other ready-for-play component that will specifically be queer, non-normative, or otherwise designed or a broader audience. Current idea (thanks Kristin) is Women in Ironhook Prison (The Wire + Orange Is The New Black). I like it but I’m going to keep brainstorming.