We had our second session of Blades in the Dark earlier this week. Good time, though I am still trying to figure out a better approach to playing: my characters tend to be a fair bit more confrontational, while others tend to play theirs in a more cagey manner—and you can guess who racks up the stress by doing that. Not that I want to revert to a more cagey approach to play, but I think it might be good if I can wrap my head around the sneakier, trickier stuff, and the tactic of standing back and waiting for a more obvious and advantageous opening.
That said, today’s mission was did not only end successfully, but also resulted in the addition of some points to our crew’s advancement track… and all the player characters survived! We also gained some rep, which is nice. We settled on the Radicals playbook (originally posted here) for our crew—whom we’ve called “The Cinder Brigade”—so we’re playing outright revolutionaries who’re fighting against the pernicious influence of a semi-secret society of horrifically exploitative and monstrous, but powerful and well-connected, factory owners known as “The Glitters.” (We borrowed bits and pieces from the Anarchists crew type, like their prioritization of “Rep” over “Coin,” for example.)
I continue to be impressed with the game system: the dice mechanics are pretty straightforward once you get used to them, the resource economy is brutal, and on the player side, I expect there’s a kind of thrill to finding your feet in the system—adopting a kind of fluidity that allows you to let go of preconceptions and get stuff done. Two sessions in, I know that it’s often my own failure to adapt to unanticipated circumstances (and “stick to the plan” in my head) that holds my characters back. I’m going to try be more of a blank slate when it comes to strategy next time, I think… and also, less in-your-face with our crew’s antagonists, because playing in that more confrontational way seems to cost my characters a lot more stress and injury, and seems to jeopardize every score more than sneakiness otherwise might do.
For those interested, here’s how the score went:
Among the many goings-on in Doskvol, our crew heard about the mysterious disappearance of the union organizer and retired pugilist, Belle Brogan, and we ended up feeling that might be the most important thing to tackle in terms of furthering the revolutionary cause in the city.
A few characters reached out to their contacts. Mason, the group’s spider, met with Salia (an information broker) and learned that members of a gang called The Tin Razors had been carousing and celebrating a “job,” but that their leader, Pistol, was nowhere to be seen; also, that death-ravens had not landed on Belle’s roof, suggesting she was probably still alive out there somewhere. Where? A clue came from Lord Scurlock, the vampire fiend with whom Jamna, the crew’s Whisper, is friendly. Scurlock wryly observed that “troublemakers” of her sort get eaten up by some organization called the Condemnation. Also, that the lights had been on at night over at an old Iron Foundry in the city which had become the property of the Church of the Ecstasy of the Flesh, which, has among its leadership one of the factory owners belonging to the organization called “The Glitters”—which is crew’s sworn enemy. The Church, we knew, was not only the state religion of Doskvol, but also was mixed up in ritual magics involving the removal of souls from individuals, and we feared Belle Brogan might undergo such a rite.
Our characters made their way to the foundry late in the day:
… and bluffed our way in by posing as members of the Tin Razors. We brought beer, food, and a bottle of fine whiskey, the latter dosed with sedative, and once we got the main guards woozy, we made our way into the back chamber where the old furnaces stood in ruins.
Mason bluffed Pistol into thinking we were new recruits and set about to getting him drunk (and, thereby, fully sedated) while Jamna investigated the cries within one of the old broken furnaces, only to find a witch working on preparations for the hollowing of Belle Brogan, who was bound to a chair and trapped in a horrible arcane helmet:
Jamna tried to creep up on the witch, but was caught when she knocked over some loose bricks and was told to get lost. When the witch returned her attention to Belle’s preparations. Attuning her mind to the spirit world, Jamna discovered the witch had four warded ghosts bound to her, and also discovered a baffling tempest was rocking the foundry in the spirit realm—one she could not explain until, moments later, a booming knock on the door was followed by the entrance of a Preceptor of the Cult of the Ecstasy of the Flesh, flanked by two Hollows (think “living zombies”) who sent the witch on her way and, telling Jamna to get lost, continued his preparations of Belle.
Jamna went near the Hollows, uncorked a spirit bottle she’d filled earlier than evening, and whispered commands into it. Sadly, only one of the two spirits was able to comply, and it leapt into the nearest Hollow. She caught a glimpse of a familiar face outside the window—a man she’d seen before, utterly addicted to spirit drugs, who was watching these events and staring directly at Jamna—but she turned her attention to the task at hand. The Preceptor had noticed what was going on, and advanced threateningly toward her as she shouted a code word to Mason, which triggered his tossing her a pistol. S still had to get it into the hollow’s hand, though, and the possession turned out to be short-lived and unhelpful, apparently because of the way the hollow had been treated: it was like throwing a cat into a thornbush. Mason cried for help from the rest of the Tin Razors, and those remaining—whom the witch had not enlisted to escort her home—stumbled over, still drunk and woozy. Jamna and Mason pleaded with the other Tin Razors to “do something,” claiming that the Preceptor had “done Pistol” (i..e killed him) and pointing to the gang leader’s unconscious form in the corner. They were drunk enough, though, that they didn’t get much done.
Finally, our crew unleashed its secret weapon: a load of demolitions prepared under the false bottom of the food bin on the cart. Mason pulled the pin and rolled it toward the Preceptor and the two hollows. The blast destroyed the latter, sending the Preceptor tumbling back into the far wall, unconscious or at least stone-still. Mason strode over and shot him in the face in cold blood while Jamna struggled to free Belle from her bindings. Unable to remove the mask, she unhooked it from the rest of the equipment in the room and helped the woman up, and then the trio fled to the nearby canal outside, where a gondolier they’d hired to wait for them was actually at the right place, waiting quietly. They slipped onto the gondola and brought Belle to their hideout, where they had the tools to take apart the spirit helmet, and then they tended to her wounds… the physical ones, at least. Success!
Now the crew must decide whether to pass the battered and Belle Brogan on to the crew called The Lost, who fight to protect the workers of Doskvol: it’ll mean less of a boost to their reputation, but certainly less heat from the powers that be (especially the Church of the Ecstasy of the Flesh and their sworn enemy, the Glitters). If she’s amenable, handing her over could also lead to the forging of a possible alliance with the Lost, which could be handy in the long run.