Blades at the Con

Courtesy of Evil Hat

What Players Need to Know

Blades is a mechanically dense game and that’s really awesome! It’s totally fun to engage with those things over a campaign — long term projects, developing one’s crew, making connections with a lot of NPCs — but none of those fit into a four-hour slot. In the next few sections, I’ve put together the minimum information I think is useful for new players to have a good time at a convention slot of Blades in the Dark.

Mechanics

Just about the only thing someone new needs to know, above all else, is how a dice pool is constructed. Take a number of D6s equal to the number of dots you have in a skill and roll them. More dots is better. The GM should be able to guide the player through what exactly those results mean, explaining the various positions and effects as they come up.

Setting

“Doskvol is an industrial fantasy city haunted by ghosts made of lightning”

Player Reference?

I think important things for a new player are as follows:

  1. How to make a dice pool (more dots is better)
  2. How to get bonus dice (pushing yourself, taking a devil’s bargain, or being assisted)
  3. Doskvol is an industrial fantasy city with lightning ghosts
  4. Brief summaries of the various heritages, so that the character sheet has as little to explain as possible

What GMs Need to Do

Character Generation

I strongly recommend running the entire character creation process. Character creation in games like Blades is play, and always gets people fired up to play with these characters. I provide the brief summaries of the various places you can be from found on page 53 of the book, and let them deduce the heritages which are mostly self-explanatory.

Crew Creation

First and foremost, don’t let the players pick a crew. Choose for them, usually either Shadows or Assassins. Even if you have a really cool idea for some Bravos or some Cultists, I am personally of the opinion that Shadows and Assassins are the most immediately accessible. You either steal things or kill people, easy.

Job Prep

I’d recommend preparing one job with a few details and ideas to make it interesting. You don’t need a huge amount of detail, but a couple of key inspirations can be very useful. As an example, here are my notes for a pretty successful Shadow job I’ve run a few times:
— A failing noble family, the Templetons, has an arcane item that the Dimmer Sisters want them to steal.
— They are hosting a party tonight where other, more well-to-do nobles will come and sneer at them because their townhouse-manor is about to be sold (visual inspiration: bright white stone, shimmering metalwork, well-maintained front, run-down behind)
— The item is a scroll with something written on it in leviathan blood — this has changed each time I’ve run it, but most recently was the true name of the dead patriarch of the Templetons whose ghost was the final protection of this safe.
— The item in a safe in the attic with both arcane and mundane protections.
— The party has two halves — the nobles in the front part of the house, and the servants in the back. Both can be entered, either by a social plan or by sneaking in the back.
— There are a couple of Red Sashes guarding it on the public side of the party. The private side is ‘guarded’ by the presence of the remaining Templeton servants running around trying to run a soiree.

Running the Game

Above all, keep it snappy. In the job I just outlined, a great way to do this is to snap between people in the front of the house and the back, which is almost always the division that ends up happening.

Structure

In a three-hour slot, don’t even worry about doing more than a single job. If you hustle people along, character generation should be done in 80–90 minutes, which leaves time for one complex job. If you have a 4+ hour slot, you may be able to run job-downtime-job, with the second one usually being quite short. You can either improvise that one or plan it in advance, but I’ve found that people have usually given me enough ideas at that point that figuring out something else they want to steal or kill is pretty easy.

  1. Full character creation with limited crew creation and limited options
  2. Tell players only what they need to know until it comes up
  3. Short downtime with abridged actions
  4. Let your players trust you and let your players win

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Noel Warford

Noel Warford

Usable security researcher and tabletop RPG designer