I’ve been working out how to run Blades in the Dark as a one-shot for a while. The first couple of games I’ve played/run managed to get through character and crew generation, and one score, in the 3-4 hour session, and while that was a great introduction to the game, there were a few things I wasn’t sure about with that
- character generation is fun and exciting, but crew generation is often not; players negotiate awkwardly with each other and the sometimes over-think choices
- the setting needs to be explained quickly and concisely
- factional interactions (in crew generation and after the score) take too long to explain and monitor
- the pattern of score – downtime – score is a key rhythm of longer-term play; it seems a shame to neglect downtime entirely in the one-shot
With this in mind, I set about working out how to give a satisfying one-shot experience. I used to run a lot of Mouse Guard, which has a similar turn structure, and I used to make sure that I did a GM’s Turn (where they completed the first half of the mission – often this started in media res and there was little chance to prepare or negotiate approaches), a Player’s Turn (where they tried to recover from conditions, and planned for the next mission – which they had a fair idea about from plot threads in the first section) and another GM’s Turn – a more player-led mission where they might have to assemble allies or negotiate approaches, with multiple means of resolution.
With that in mind, my Blades one-shot structure now looks like this
- Players pick playbooks from a restricted list
- GM introduces Crew sheet and abilities (already picked, but without a name / hideout)
- Players play “Training Score” – Race to Gaddoc
- Downtime activities – simplified and quick
- Players play a full score – either the starting score or one of Sean Nittner’s scores – I’ve used Gaddoc Rail a couple of times
Does it work? Well, by beginning with a simple score, the players get a chance to learn the ropes of the system and what approaches they can use, which makes the second score much more straightforward – they risk stress, use flashbacks, and really invest to make sure it works. I ran it at Go Play Leeds recently and we managed another score after Gaddoc Rail – which was short and sweet thanks to some really good rolls, but it still gave a sense of progression to the game beyond the “one score and out” approach I’d used previously.
For the playbooks, I reduce the choice to just Cutter, Hound, Leech, Lurk, and Slide – the other two are a bit ‘weird’ and can be a stretch to get the players involved if they aren’t going to stretch it themselves.
The crew are Shadows – probably the easiest crew sheet to get in with – I put the crew sheet down, tell them after the first mission they’ll have a name for themselves, and tick the first Special Ability – Everybody Steals – so they all get an extra dot in Finesse, Prowl, or Tinker.
For the training score – Race to Gaddoc – I have some pre-prepared scenes based on what playbooks have actually been selected. I don’t have to use all of them, but enough to make sure everyone has enough spotlight time – they are pitched at one of the playbooks in particular, but there’s no need for that person to necesarily resolve the issue. The scenes are below (a .pdf with all of the details in one place will be linked in Part 2 when I post it next week).
Race to Gaddoc – A Training Score
- Explain the starting situation – as a gang of ne’er-do-wells out to make a name for themselves, they have been asked by Lyssa, new leader of the Crows, to transport a rare case of Iruvian Brandy across the city to the Railjacks Guild at Gaddoc Rail. The problem is, she obtained this Brandy by stealing it from the Red Sashes, and the Bluecoats are looking for it as well, so this won’t be an easy task
- Explain that this is a Transport task, and ask them for their Route across the ciry – they can choose to go by the alleyways and side-streets, or by the rivers and waterways, or they can try and disguise themselves as respectable merchants
- Don’t allow too much planning, but they need to pick their Load based on the approach chosen
- They make their engagement roll: 1d for luck, and if they have added anything to the approach which is useful, they get +1d for a better plan. They can also add in their friends or contacts if that’s relevant for +1d (only one friend can be involved)
- Randomly select who rolls the engagement roll – unless somebody wants the responsibility
- On a 6, it’s all going swimmingly until the acts below happen – their rolls will generally by Controlled to start with
- On a 4-5, there are complications – rolls will start at Risky
- On 1-3, it’s all going wrong – rolls begin with Desperate
- Select encounters based on the Playbooks chosen as below
- As they turn a corner in an alley, there are two heavies from the Lampblacks there – they wanted this job, and don’t see why they shouldn’t have got it rather than these upstarts.
- Controlled: they’ve got their backs to you and are talking about the problem,
- Risky: you see them sizing you up, threatening you – maybe they can be reasoned with, or at least surprised?
- Desperate: there’s a knife at your throat before you know it and a threat in your ear. They’ve been tracking you since you left the Crow’s old watch tower hideout
- Results of failure are likely to be Harm! Either way, they should escape to continue the mission. Also, use the level of success to determine the position for the next roll – if it’s successful, the next roll is likely to be Controlled or Risky, if it’s a failure, it might well be Desperate, and use the fiction to snowball into this
- As you round a corner towards your goal, you can see the Red Sashes are tracking the route to the station – there are sharpshooters on the rooftops around the alleys or waterways, and you can see their Iruvian bows glittering in the breeze
- Controlled: They are patrolling, but haven’t noticed you yet – they should be easy pickings
- Risky: As above, but you can see they’re watching one another as well, tracking the alley/road/canal you’re coming down – and it’s too late to turn round, and carry alarm whistles – you’ll have to take them out quickly
- Desperate: One’s looking straight at you, whistle in his mouth and bow at his shoulder about to shoot
- Results of failure could be Harm, or to start a Red Sash Alert! Clock (4 sections) that can be filled in by future rolls. If it fills, they’ll have the full force of the Red Sashes waiting for them at the Railjack Yard and have to fight their way through
- You’ve found the perfect short-cut – just around this building and you’ll have it, you can walk right through the main square without ducking round. But you’ve got an array of construction apparatus blocking your path – maybe it’s time for a little engineering to get through it?
- Controlled: As above – there’s a web of rickety scaffolding around you, that need disassembling quietly and safely so you can proceed
- Risky: The scaffolding is rickety and groans as you touch it – and there are construction workers just around the corner moving around – you’ll have to work quickly
- Desperate: With a sickening crunch your cart is pinned beneath the web of a scaffolding link. There’s a commotion above and you can see hard-hatted engineers making their way towards you to investigate
- You could start a Bluecoats clock as a result of failure as they are alerted to you, or fill in another clock
- The area of Nightmarket around the Railjack’s yard is crawling with Bluecoats, Red Sashes, and everyone else from Duskwall. You’re going to have to sneak past them to get in – maybe use the rooftops, or the sewers. This is a good opportunity for a Group Prowl roll.
- Controlled: They are milling around, but they’re not looking for anything in particular – could be you could sneak past in plain sight
- Risky: They know a shipment is coming in from the Crows and what it is – the case has been reported missing, and there are sniffer dogs around who have the nose for brandy
- Desperate: They are looking for exactly the group that the Crew represent. It’s rooftops or sewers, or there’ll be trouble.
- The Railjack‘s yard is surrounded by customs officials – they’ve had a big shipment of blood in and there’s no way at all that the players can come in for business, or otherwise
- Controlled: It should be a simple matter of showing your papers though?
- Risky: There’s Bluecoats and/or Red Sashes moving around as well, talking to the customs men – depending on the state of the clocks
- Desperate: Behind the man is a hastily-sketched likeness of your Cutter, for this or a previous crime
- After this, they can deliver the Brandy and update the crew sheet – give them +1 with the Crows and the Railjacks, and -1 from the Red Sashes and the Bluecoats. Take a break!
In Part 2, I’ll talk about the changes to Downtime to make it quick and easy, and how to transition to the second score.