Actual Play – XV (3/4/2016)

ghost_titleGM: Sean Nittner
Players: Matt Klein, Dale Horstman, Paul Hamblin, and Karen Twelves
System: Blades in the Dark, Quickset Rules v.5
Playset: Vigilantes draft 1.11

Woah, two playtets in as many days. I’m on fire! I was able to make a few tweaks since the day before but overall, they didn’t affect the playtest overly much.

Our Vigilantes

The XVs (Twelves + 3) are a small squad of Bluecoats [Real Police] that worked for Captain Marialla Brogan, one of the few Bluecoats that tried to uphold the law rather than extort it. Marialla had just uncovered an internal conspiracy with the Church of the Forgotten Gods when she was unceremoniously murdered. To avenge their beloved captain, and find out what she was looking into without losing their own heads, this band of bluecoats and one inspector started meeting in the basement of House Dunville to plot how they could actually bring some justice to Duskvol and to Marialla’s murderer.

Our Cast

Kristov Scapa, is a brooding man from a long line of Bluecoats, each one more corrupt than the next. There is a lot expected of Kristov not only from his family but from the network of Bluecoats, criminals, informants, shady magistrates, and extorted merchants that they have built up. Kristov knows the biggest danger for him are the people he comes home to at night. A Hound played by Dale Horstman.

Emile (Lina) Dunville is a woman that has just seen so much, it has broken her. She was a combat engineer in the unity war, sent to disarm spirit charged landmines in the fields. She’s seen so many horrors that she is numb to them, and rarely fights back against them. Though she used to loot bodies with her friend Eckerd, she finally found something to stand for with Captain Brogan. And now she’s dead. Like everything else in this world. A Leech played by Karen Twelves.

Michéle Lenia a bluecoat who has seen better days. Scarred in a battle and disowned by his family, Michéle went from from riches to rags overnight. He was given a second chance, as a Bluecoat, but this was hardly a blessing. Inside the force, many tried to leverage his family connections to their own advantage, unaware or unconcerned that every encounter with his enraged father could be a fatal one. A Lurk played by Paul Hamblin.

Phin Dalmore, a passionately curious man, Dalmore was not content with the life of academia, and turned his pursuits of mental challenges to the law, becoming an inspector and forever disappointing his family. Unfortunately he found the mysteries of crime were all too mundane. Criminals pay off bluecoats, who get pinched by magistrates, who work for the nobles, who make illicit dealings with merchants, who ply their contraband wares and are robbed by criminals. An endless machine that feeds on itself and grinds up anything else that doesn’t fit nicely within it’s cogs. A spider played by Matt Klein.

The play is the thing

Well, to be fair, I almost didn’t think it was going to happen. We had such a good time fleshing out these characters and problems they had already faced that it took a good two hours just to be ready to play. This was partially introducing the system and the playset and partially because I love asking all those juicy details about our scoundrels.

We started out looking in on our vigilantes in Lina’s basement crouched around a low flame…and the antics picked up from there.

Phin: “Did you hear that? What’s that noise in house?”

Lina (casual as anything): “Oh, that’s a raccoon. I call him Bitey. Because he bit me.”

Phin: “How long has he been up there?”

Lina: “A week? Maybe more. I just stopped going up there. Didn’t you wonder why I asked you to climb through the street cellar windows. I think he came up from the oubliette in the floor.”

Others: “So you’re letting a raccoon occupy your home?”

“Yeah, seemed sensible.”

Clearly this could not stand. Kristov and Michéle went upstairs, and Kristov’s rifle was fired several times. They came back, smattered in some blood, and said “It’s still up there!”

[Now it’s worth noting that all of this was player antics. I wasn’t planning on making them take any kind of action to rid the house of a raccoon, but they were clearly having a delightful time building this thing up to being something more than an ordinary varmit. So I did what you do in Blades, right. I scanned their faction list and saw who hated them. Two negative ticks with the Forgotten Gods. That enough to send some spy to gather intelligence on them. Sure.]

They closed the door to the the room above, but the wily creature opened it back up, and stared at them with swirling red eyes from atop the stairs. Finally taking it seriously Kristov lined up a shot and fired, right between it’s red eyes.

The scream that came from it was not that of a animal. More like a young child wailing for it’s parents. After being locked in a closet. For a week. And then the death bell intoned.

That wasn’t right. Animals shouldn’t set it off. Maybe someone else died at the same time? Possibly but the timing was uncanny. And they didn’t want to take chances with Spirit Wardens coming around.

A clever distraction

The streets were busy and several shots just went off in Lina’s home. The belltower also run, and they were concerned about who might noticed when the ran outside with a dead, but still possessed raccoon.

Phin had a devious plan, as always. He wrapped himself up in rags, covered his face in soot, grabbed something that looked valuable and raced down the street, with Michéle hot on his heels yelling “Thief!” Meanwhile Lina and Kristov slunk down to the Leaky Bucket to speak with their friend Amala, the spirit trafficker. The plan worked… all too well.

Larose, a Blue Coat that worked this beat, and knew Michéle well as a useless excuse for a cop heard the call and chased Phin down. Luckily he wasn’t looking carefully and had no desire to prosecute the thief, he merely pummeled him with his cudgel and then chastised Michéle for letting a filthy scoundrel like that get away in the first place.

Favors called in

“Kristov, you helped me out with my Spirit Warden trouble, and I owe you for it. But what do you want me to do with this raccoon?”

“His name is Bitey. Or was Bitey.”

Amala suggested that if the raccoon did have a soul in it, and if that soul would rise in three days (probably less given the vessel it was in), that they should get it either to a crematorium, which she could arrange or as far away as possible.

They went for option C.

“How about you exorcise the spirit so we can questioned it?”

Amala was really not interested in this plan. Not only was it likely to get Spirit Wardens on her ass but who the hell knows how to bring a spirit out of an animal. And what if it got away? She was even less excited about who it might report back to.

[This is where Phin got to shine a bit. Matt triggered a flashback to back in Lina’s basement where he gave Kristov some leverage to use on Amala if needed, which translated to helping in a teamwork action, even though he wasn’t present. And it paid off!]

Begrudgingly she agreed. “Okay, give me a day to gather everything I need. After this, it’s you who owe me!

What have the Forbidden Gods Done?!?

Like pulling a rotten tooth from the decaying jaws of life, Amala struggled as she summoned and bound the ghost that possessed the raccoon. A young girl, perhaps eight or nine, with the same same red eyes the raccoon had possessed. Though hungry and enraged, the ghost was cowed by Phin’s threats and the sparking electromplasmic field that Lina, Kirstov and Michéle held around it.

The child had been a sickly orphan, hungry and hurting, when the Forgotten Gods came to give her a new home, one where she would not hurt any longer, one she could stay in as long as she liked, and all they asked was that she report back to them on the goings on of their enemies. She was young, small, and could do this easily, and willingly! The new home, of course, was a new body, her old one was lost.

Questioning over, the spirit trafficker ramped up the voltage on the electroplasimic field and incinerated the ghost before them, before, the ghost could send a message through the void to the Forbidden Gods.

[See below for more detail on this, but I handled the summoning using the quality trait of Amala, but I considered making this and engagement roll to see how well prepared the Forbidden Gods were for this to happen.]

Hitting them where it hurts

Talking to their friends in the Emerald Queen’s Orphanage [Gathering information], our vigilantes learned that a priest of the forbidden gods named Durvel comes by once a week to offer prayers for the sick. For those that are particularly ill, the church offers to take them in and offer them care until they pass, which keeps the orphanage from having to deal with the Spirit Wardens, an especially pernicious problem as many of the children were ill.

Want to expose them in public, the XV waited until the appointed day to ambush them. Michéle, Kristov, and Lina all hid in the alley, while Phin posed as a gardener in the dilapidated park across the street.

The Forbidden Gods knew that they had lost one of their spies recently, so instead of Durvel coming alone, he traveled with two laymen that assistants (poorly concealed thugs who wore body armor under their habits). [Tougher than it seemed outcome on their Engagement Roll].

The fight was swift and brutal, and worked more or less as well as they could have hoped for. The two thugs Brena and Cross both went down quickly. One from a sniper shot to the head from Kristov, and another from an assault of blades from Lina and Michéle, followed up but a garden rake to sweep out his feet as he tried to flee by Phin. Soon they were upon Durvel, who foolishly admitted that he had been killing the children and harvesting their spirits… right in front of Stev, the chaplain of the Emerald Queen’s Orphanage.

Wrapping up

We ended the score there. It was getting really late (well past my bedtime) and felt like they had sufficiently hurt the Forgotten Gods enough to gain rep and gain a new protected turf (the orphanage, with Stev as their contact). There was also plenty of uncertainty left over from their mission. There were dead in the street, and a lot of folks saw them do it. We also all had the hunch that even though Stev was their contact now, he might have been in on the whole gig. He’d have to act thankful in the moment, but would he turn on them once he had a chance? That was for the entanglement roll to determine!

We did XP (they got a lot, which is great), and then said it would be fun to play these characters again, but given how infrequently we meet up, it’s unlikely we will. I thanked them for play testing with me and wrote down notes with their feedback.

What Rocked

When asked “who are you?” Phin replied “We’re the X-Fives!”. That is not how I thought it would be pronounced! I think Matt may have just be tired as well, but it was hilarious.

I didn’t put this in the write up because I can’t remember how it happened exactly, but we decided that spiritbane charms work like lodestones around ghosts, with each of them being a magnetic pull. Just one ghost around, the charm was useful in pointing you at them. A lot of ghosts around? It would get confused. When they were grappling with Durvel, somehow (again, sleepy brain wont remember and notes aren’t helping), one of their spirit bane charms just went haywire. After they killed him, the 31 spirits he had bound inside himself all broke free. I’m not sure what this would actually do in the setting, but it came to me if they were harvesting spirits, where would they be putting them? I would have liked to play with this more and was already considering some of those funky advanced permissions we’ve got now!

Maps, it’s always fun to draw maps full of twisting allies, slow moving canals, and dilapidated parks. I got to write up a map real quick for this score. Maps!

The Vigilantes hurt other criminals the altruistic and/or vengeful (rather than greedy) reasons. So, yay to that!

What could have improved

It seems with both of my vigilante groups, a need for a secret identity is important, but something we glossed over. In the Walunds, they have disguises (makeshift or planned) and in XV they just weren’t well known enough for anyone to care, but it’s clear there should be something in there. A move? A crew upgrade? An advanced permission? I’m not sure, but it should be in there somehow.

A Thorn in Your Side is a popular move (both groups picked it) but being limited to Deception engagement has felt a bit restrictive to both crews, who really wanted the primary plan to be beating fools up. In this case they opted to forgo the die bonus to keep an assault plan. In the Walund game (not posted yet) they changed their plan to be deception based to get the bonus. It seems like that move may need to change to be a bonus for assault plans, or read like “pick a signature engagement method, take +1D when using that method against higher Tier targets”, or “When you make engagement rolls, ignore any penalties for higher tier targets.”

The Inner Demons starting situation once again fell flat. The players were way more interested in dealing with Bitey the raccoon than missing bodies. As it turned out, we still had missing people, just not from the same thing. Working on tightening up the Bloodletters as a threat. Replacing all the normal drug traffic in Crow’s Foot with demon-blood drug traffic is bad, yo!

The division between Blades and Vigilantes is a thin one, especially at the start. In the beginning a tier 0 gang is just scraping to get by. Whether they are looking to build a huge criminal fortune or stop crime, their activity looks pretty similar: knock over criminals. What they do when they have made some progress though, tells them apart. Once you have the wherewithal, do you use your power to protect people and keep fighting those who threaten them, or do enjoy your new place of power. To make sure that line is clear in the beginning (even if it’s just to make it that much more tempting to cross down the line), I think the Motivations should include something more definitive. Perhaps an “I will always/never” rule or a statement of purpose. Will ponder on this more.