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Andrew Shields
I am an RPG game designer and artist.
I am an RPG game designer and artist.


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Two sessions ago we had a light turnout, three of the rogues, so we sat there for a few minutes and nobody had a goal or plan. I had drawn a couple heists from the heist deck earlier that afternoon just in case, and so we ran one, then the other.

Last session I really didn't want the crew to do work for hire. There were five of them this time. I mean, if that's what they wanted, they could be a gang for some bigger crew. I wanted them to choose a direction and strike out, and make the city theirs, saving the work for hire for desperate moments or the occasional slumming or promotion transition.

It was painful for a while. We had characters who weren't there last time come back, and I prodded them for what they were interested in; maybe starting a goat stable (I suggested they could steal a stud goat), maybe provoking the Dreaming God's cult into a war for fun (I pointed out there were vulnerable points to rob). They looked at the crew sheet, and I suggested maybe they wanted some turf. I gave them sketches of two lucrative bits of turf nearby, maybe they would pick one.

They did! They wanted to take the fence, and get +2 Coin per score. Excellent.

Now we were getting somewhere. I gave each of them a chance to do some recon; they could find out some basic information, but if they put some more skin in the game with a roll or greater risk, they could find out more.

So we went around the table, and as they asked questions I focused my answers towards something that could lead to a heist to shift the power balance, and I tip to a time-worn but effective solution, something they can steal so a current gang leader can no longer blackmail his boss, and the claim can change hands in gratitude. (Internal dialogue while improvising: "Seriously, another "ghost of Roric" gambit?" "Yeah, shut up.")

In the end I think they were better off doing something that moved the needle on growing the crew and adjusting their relationships with their neighbors, rather than more work for hire. I had to prod them to get there--more to the point, had to restrain my own impulse to jump in and decide direction, just so we could get moving. Here's the play report.

Your mileage may vary, but I find it much more entertaining to run games for groups that can fall into some reasonably healthy and collaborative pattern of leadership and pursue a goal together.

My advice to players: if things are off to a slow start, and leadership is not clear, kick things off by inquiring about something you care about. That's what your friends and enemies are for. See if you can help or hurt someone on your list. If you think deathseeker crows are cool, see about getting some turf where you can set up a post to see them come and go and sell the intelligence. Look at your background and see if something there gets you moving; that's even worth experience! Ask if there are any rumors an enemy faction is overextended.

Look at what other players have going on in a similar vein. See where your interests could overlap. Pull as many people as you can into your idea in ways that help and define them too. If you hit resistance, back up and reroute. If you bring your character's flavor to the game, and encourage others to do the same, then that provides energy that can turn into momentum and get something started. This game provides all the tools to tie characters to the world and give some initial ideas for what to do with them. (Faction relationships, NPCs for each character and for the crew, backgrounds and heritages for everyone, desire for coin, turf, and rep...)

Once you're started, then the entanglement roll can provide more grist for the drama mill, or something from one heist leads to another, or there are goods that have additional complications, so we're off the the races. But getting started, that's where players can be really helpful in choosing a direction. That's their role, after all.

(None of this is intended to insult my players, just a reflection on play style and what feeds the beast for Blades in the Dark. I couldn't play without you all!)

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My home table's crew now has a name: the Clockworkers. Of a potential 6 players I had 3 show last night, and they weren't feeling terribly proactive, so I whipped together a couple related heists using my deck. We got through 2 heists of very different temperament and 2 busy downtimes in about 3 hours. Good times.

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I have posted the third chapter of Savage Worms of Silkshore.

We've pulled our crew together and they're halfway through their first heist.

Also, for those at the $5 level, they have the option of spoiling themselves; there's a breakdown of what the rest of the novel is going to be about, complete with some pretty wicked curveballs to the plot, and a look into how the book appears in my head at this stage in the game.

The next phase is my more detailed outlining process, along with another chapter in 2 weeks.

You're welcome to come along for the ride! Just $1 a chapter gets you a steady drip of Blades in the Dark fiction every 2 weeks. =)
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How do you handle drop in/drop out for crews? In my experience, groups I'm not running just hand-wave it; these people showed up to play, so their characters are in the crew.

I feel like there needs to be some barrier, though. Other crews wouldn't let our membership stroll in and sit down at the table so easily. ("Hey guys, I've got a free weekend, so I'm a Red Sash. Where's your safe house?")

There are secrets, and we're putting our lives in each others' hands, and this is a cut-throat city of competition and rivalry and schemes and plots. It seems kind of suicidal to let people just wander in and out of your crew.

To me, there should be two elements to bring someone new in. One, who vouches for them and what happened in the past that earned the character a shot in the crew. Second, some kind of oath or fealty ceremony or hazing or SOME way to mark the rite of passage that joining the crew entails. A tattoo, a dire oath marked with a curse if it's broken, at the very least a dowry.

It could be fun to randomize a character already in the crew, and randomize a list of potential reasons that character would vouch for the new person.

Also, when people just go (and characters too) is the crew roster cool with just, you know, thanks for joining up and come back whenever you feel like it?

"So yeah, we've been at war with the Piecemeats, and the Spirit Wardens have been asking hard about where our secret base is, but now that Pinky has just strolled in without a mark on him and muttered something about having spent a little time hanging out with family in Charterhall, let's get him up to date on our secrets!"

It makes the Spider in me cringe. Like, that crew deserves what it's about to get when it turns out Pinky, predictably enough, has been in a Spirit Warden bottle for two weeks getting his noggin unpacked and repacked with a few new souvenirs.

Maybe that's a chart too; were you compromised while you were off wandering around ignoring your mates, and if so, how, and if not, why not?

I assume everyone else handles this with handwaving. I'm too itchy for that, and I'll own it, maybe it's just me.

But what if we had 4 tiers of membership? Leaders, Inner Circle, full member, and probationary. Getting from one tier up to the next is a long term project, you decide how hard and what other costs are involved. And if you go on walkabout with an unexcused absence, you drop a tier.

That's a shorthand for who gets paid most, how sensitive information is, and your regard within the crew (and ability to speak for it.)

Having a number of tests and dowries that are customized per crew could be fun.

Anyway, just thinking aloud. I'm playing a Spider in a crew that is looking to start up a second arc, and it just jangles my spider-sense that the borders are so porous in the gang; I find it harder to want to invest in the crew and trust it, if just anybody could show up and be a member, and if trusted members may just vanish without a reason perhaps never to return.

How does your table handle it?

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I enjoy popping in on this community and sharing my thoughts on Doskvol and the lives of these wretched scoundrels. Now I"m writing a book set in Doskvol.

+John Harper has graciously agreed to let me write a novel in the setting. The Patreon is to help me out while I'm writing it, and if it goes well, to fund things like copyediting, cover art, layout, copyright, buying a few copies, and that sort of thing.

I'm quite pleased to be working on this project and I'm really looking forward to showing you my vision of Doskvol. I hope you come along!

Special thanks to +Brad Elliott for the runes, +James Dudli for the Blades in the Dark banner, and +John Harper for the picture of the rogues.

Thank you for the kind words and support I have received in this community. I hope you enjoy this novel as well.

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Yeah, I'm adapting these for Doskvol.

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I played Paving in this game. It's concluded the arc, but it was a great ride. +Donogh McCarthy ran a fun game for our crew.

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Impossibly wealthy oligarchs rule the valleys, making sport of war and trade. Plantations are the beating heart of luxury in Yoon-Suin, generating the tea and opium that drive all of civilization and its neighbors.

There is war, and trade. Abandoned fortresses reek of the dangers that emptied them of dwarves, and dark things brood over the treasures left behind. The stars whisper secrets to altars in the airless heights.

Dangers hem in civilization. Those willing to face those dangers and drive them back may bring civilization's borders a little further out, finding wealth and a measure of stability in the Mountains of the Moon.

You are chaos monks, touched by the writhing winds of Chaos that sometimes blow humans loose from their lives and fate them to wander, leading lives of violence. Will you survive to challenge the forces of darkness in their complacent bastions? It hardly matters; if not you, another will serve.

UNLESS THE PLAYERS COME UP WITH SOMETHING MORE INTERESTING, the objective will be to clear out the dangers around an ancient crumbling ruin, and re-assert the rule of law in dangerous (but lucrative) borderlands.

Repeat players are welcome, and may bring a consistency of objectives, but players are welcome to drop in for one session if they like. As long as we have two or more players, the game will go on.

Session 1: Sunday, November 5.

Session 2: Sunday, November 12.

Session 3: Sunday, November 19.

Session 4: Sunday, November 26.

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