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Tom Walters

Due to some people not being able to make our regular campaign game, I stepped in to run a Blades one-shot for the two players who were still around (warning: super long post ahead).

Our small crew consisted of the Hound Ivan, a native Arokosian who used to work a tin mine in a lightening-fenced compound outside of the city walls, and the Slide Raif, a Skovlander noble and academic who had travelled to the city of Duskwall to study and since then had fallen into a life of crime. Given the relative skills of the crew, we ended up interpreting the idea of 'Thieves' pretty broadly: the duo were essentially running an extortion racket, with Raif infiltrating gangs and business to identify their most important members and their vulnerabilities, and then extracting money from them under the threat of retribution from Ivan.

Assigning faction relationships was a pretty cool experience, and helped set up some instant background for the crew. In particular, poor relationships with the Inspectors and Leviathan Hunters led to the idea that the crew had tried to extort money from the owner of a hunter ship. When he refused to fold, Ivan (without Raif's consent) went after the man's wife...who also happened to be an Inspector. The murder has been a significant source of tension between the two.

The game proper kicked off with the duo having been dragged from the attic apartment in which they make their lair by a pair of burly Lampblack's to be deposited in Bazso Baz's office, where the gang leader tells them in no uncertain terms that it's time for them to pick a side in the on-going war for Crows Foot.

The pair reluctantly agree, and Bazso offers a job to clear out the Red Sashes' vault. He doesn't know exactly where the Red Sashes's stash their cash, but he points them towards a potential weak link they could pump for information: Cleft, a agent for the Dockers and liaison for their dealing's with the Red Sashes. Raif also successfully talks Bazso round to giving the crew a larger share of their profits from the job.

The pair head off to see Cleft and gather some intel, but things...escalate. They find Cleft running a small stall down by the canal, with a couple of Dockers unloading a canal boat nearby. Raif aproaches and suggests to Cleft that he has a business deal best discussed in private, and leads him off to the crew's favourite tavern (The Lucky Bastard, the fanciest tavern in Crows Foot, run by his special contact). They are trailed, rather conspicuously, by the pair of Dockers who are in turn followed, much less conspicuously, by Ivan.

Riaf brings Cleft to one of the upstairs rooms, whilst Ivan sets up across the street with a view in through the window, pulling the break-barrel rifle out from under his coat and sighting up. The pair of Dockers lurk outside the tavern door.

Raif decides to cut through any negotiation by hurling some trance powder in Cleft's face and then extracting anything he knows about the Red Sashes vault from him while he's under its influence (this leads to a quick discussion about exactly what trance powder does: we decide that someone under its effects will be highly suggestible, but they will absolutely remember what was used on them later). Once he has the vault location (the basement of an old church of the Immortal Emperor, with access from the church entrance or through the sewers), he gives Ivan the pre-arranged single (flashback!) to take the shot. Ivan, the consummate professional, takes Cleft out cleanly, timing his shot to be drowned out by a particularly loud bout of carousing from the tavern, leaving the Dockers at the door none the wiser.

It's around this point, with Cleft's rapidly cooling body lying on the floor, that the pair suspect they might have very quickly gone in over their heads.

In an attempt to stave off any reprisals, the crew approach Keel, the leader of the Dockers in Crows Foot, on his canal barge. They concoct a story that they caught Cleft cheating at gambling and killed him in retaliation. Keel offers to let the death go for one coin of blood money. The crew aren't keen on this, and the negotiations break down, with Keel ordering his guys to grab them. Ivan makes a leap to the wharf while Raif holds off some of the gang with his cane-sword. They manage to de-escalate the situation by Ivan drawing his pistols and levelling them at Keel while Raif talks him down. They leave with a grudging truce with the Dockers - they leave quickly, as the altercation has caught the attention of some bystanders, and Bluecoats are sure to be on their way.

Now square(ish) with the Dockers, the crew take stock. They aren't too impressed with how Bazso tried to solicit their help, and figure that the Red Sashes might have a deal for them (if, for example, they can offer a handful of Lampblack prisoners delivered directly into Red Sash hands).

They manage to score a meeting with Mylera. The leader of the Red Sashes is reclining in an opulent drug den above the gang's sword fighting school, and greats them somewhat warily ("Ah, the upstart thieves about whom we hear such...complicated things"). She is open to their plan, however: they will lead a handful of Lampblacks into the vault at an agreed time, where the Red Sashes will be waiting to ambush them. In case Bazso requires some extra incentive to trust them, Mylera gives up the location for a small drugs handover taking place elsewhere in the district.

Negotiations with Bazso are somewhat tense. He eventually agrees to send some of his men to help the crew raid the vault, but he is suspicious enough to insist on sending four rather than the two the crew suggested.

They meet their new accomplices a couple of hours later at the Leaky Bucket tavern. It's an imposing group: Phin, one of the Lampblack's champion knife fighters (Phin, in his short appearance, became something of a hit with the players, primarily because I was running out of voices to use and ended up falling back on a thick Oxfordshire accent for him), Arden carrying a massive sledge hammer, a locksmith (called Locks) and Ring, a man with the blue flame tattoos of a Lampblack but wearing the robes and mask of a Spirit Warden - the chill in the air that hung around him suggested he was a Whisper.

The crew spent a bit of time getting to know their temporary allies - Ivan bonded with Phin over their experiences on the Ghost Lines, while Raif buttered up Ring, prepping him for the idea that if a chance to change employer were to present itself, it might behove him to take it.

They decide to enter the vault through the sewers, and we're finally in to a proper score.

It's full night by now (for as much as that means in Duskwall), and they’re going to need to pass a few Bluecoat patrols to make their way to an appropriate sewer entrance. The first group of guards they stumble across is a small patrol of three. Raif, pulling some fake ID from his disguise kit, attempts to talk his way past them.

It goes incredibly badly.

The Bluecoats see right through his ruse, and rush in to try and arrest him (a failed risky action, then a failed desperate action). Raif smartly knees an officer in the groin whilst the rest of the group rush to help him, except Arden, who legs it, one of the Bluecoats in hot pursuit. Ivan, ever ready for this sort of circumstance, calmly dispatches one Bluecoats with his concealed blade, while Phin finishes off the one currently rolling around on the ground. They pause for a few moments while Ring incinerates the bodies, then head down into the sewers.

Ring helps them to overcome the wards on route, and they emerge in the vaulted catacomb under the church of the Immortal Emperor, a large vault door standing at the far end. Concealed behind the columns lining the chamber, Ivan catches glimpses of several red clad figures.

Once everyone's in the room, the Red Sashes emerge, swords drawn. Ring and Lock surrender immediately, but Phin casts a quick glance at Ivan, does some mental calculation, and lunges toward the Hound with his daggers. As the Red Sashes subdue their prisoners, an ugly brawl erupts between Ivan, Phin and Raif. Ivan merely wings Phin with a close-range pistol shot, when Raif barrels into the man and tackles him to the ground. They trade blows for a moment, before Raif gains the upper hand and hold Phin in place long enough for Ivan to step up and finish the Lampblack off with a second pistol shot to the temple (there was some discussion at the table here about when Murder or Mayhem applied, and whether Ivan could use Murder after the fight with Phin spiralled out of control. We eventually settled on Ivan only being in a position to use Murder after Raif gave him the chance to get some distance and collect himself).

We wrap up pretty quickly at this point - the Red Sashes have the promised prisoners, and reward the crew for their efforts (2 coin and 1 hold on their development roll). They also draw down 2 heat, perhaps not surprising given the number of bodies they've left in their wake. On a grisly final note, Ivan sets to work removing Phin's bladder as a horrific trophy (tied in to his 'Weird' vice), leaving Raith to wonder what sort of madman he has allied himself with.

Things that worked for us:

- Devil's bargains were a huge hit. Some choice ones which popped up during the game were: "You break your sword cane attacking him", "One of Inspector Holtz's informants catches wind of you acting suspiciously", "A bystander will summon the Bluecoats" and "Bazso will find out you fucked him over".
- Action and Effect rolls worked really well for the most part.
- Character and Crew creation were a fantastic experience, and left us with lots of potential story hooks if we ever come back to these characters.
- Flashbacks were great, and both players very quickly got in to the habit of calling flashbacks for minor details or reasonable preparations they might have made.

Things we struggled with:

There are a few things I'd like to get a better handle on for the next time I run the game (which I'll be doing for a larger group next Thursday).

- In some situations, establishing a risk up front that was distinct from straight up failure was a challenge. Particularly when trying to sneak past guards, it felt like we were really reaching to establish an effect that wasn't "you're spotted" (note it didn't seem to be quite the same thing as an AW style 'success with a cost', as the effect was supposed to be established in fiction ahead of time). In other circumstances, like fights, it wasn't an issue.
- Getting people to stop planning was tough.
- There was a lot a play that fell outside the normal 'score' structure. I feel a bit divided about this. On the one hand, it had some negative mechanical effects (in particular, the players took a lot of stress, without downtime to recover). On the other hand, the situation with the Dockers spiralling out of control created a very 'Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels' style experience that was great to play through.

All in all, it was a great game, and we're all looking forward to getting back to Duskwall in the future.
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