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Structuring a "Score" in Forged In the Dark

innerdude

Legend
So I backed the Court of Blades kickstarter a few months ago, and only now just started digging into the "preview" PDF. Everything I've read so far has been tremendously compelling, and very much in line with what I hoped it would be when I backed it.

The "preview" is a 90-95% complete set of rules, minus the interior art. The premise is a Forged in the Dark take on The Three Musketeers (particularly the BBC TV series), Count of Monte Cristo, Dangerous Liaisons, Scarlet Pimpernel, etc., with hints of fey/gothic magic interspersed.

On the whole, the rules and play structure seem relatively clear, and the general tone / playstyle / player + GM authority roles seem quite similar to standard GM-led play in Ironsworn.

But I'm having questions around how exactly to structure a "score". In Court of Blades it's referred to as an "errand", which if I am reading things correctly, would be a specific set of scenes undertaken by the players to achieve the goals of their faction (one of the "Great Houses" of the city of Ilrien). For example, "Attend Baron Von Falhauser's ball, seduce Mistress Janokov to get her to reveal the location of the hidden warehouse full of smuggling goods, and retrieve the bills of lading from the Baron's vault in his upper chambers."

From what I understand, entering a "score" / "errand" is not meant to be done in a painstaking, GM-backstory-pixel-hunting, hours-long planning session.

Basically, once the "errand" is to be undertaken, the GM and players perform a quick series of engagement rolls which sets some of the initial position / effect for the players' "coterie" (the BitD equivalent of "the crew"). The dice rolled are based on the relative power levels between the player's faction and the faction being engaged, any background info, any pre-existent fiction that may help/hinder the players, etc.

But immediately after that, it's assumed the players and GM just dive in --- "Okay, you arrive at the Baron's ball, and immediately notice that there's a much stronger bureaucratic (and security) presence than you initially surmised. If Mistress Janokov remains true to form, she will either be found consuming wine along the outskirts of the dance hall, or ingratiating herself to whichever prince of the court is willing to lend an ear . . . . "

From that point, what's a typical back and forth going to look like? At what point does it become clear to the players that they may need to sacrifice some stress to introduce a flashback? As a GM how permissive vs. hard-lined should I be in requiring rolls for flashbacks, and in setting position / effect for the flashbacks, etc.?

I understand how "harm" conditions are generated through responses to action rolls, but how does stress interact with the harm conditions? What mechanical effects does accruing too much stress have on the players?
 

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I play things quite fast and loose in Blades in the Dark. The Engagement rolls kicks things off kind of like an initiative roll, except that it just determines how risky the initial situation is. So we introduce some initial obstacle like security checks. But sometimes it's fun to kick things off with a more dramatically significant threat.

Some GMs like to prompt players for ideas based on what the score is ("It's been a while since we've had your rivals show up at a social event. Maybe Myra or Minx's rival? What do you think?"). Or if I have a better idea (another NPC crew happens to be here for their own score, or a renegade ghost with a grudge against the NPC the crew are here to meet) then I introduce it instead.

There are a few ways PCs to accumulate stress during this process. Pushing themselves to make the action roll needed to overcome the immediate obstacle, or spending 1 stress aiding someone else who is making the roll. Or they can change the narrative situation in some way by proposing a flashback and negotiating with me for how much it affects play. "I sent a fake invitation to Flint because he's sure to want to come, and he is bound to make a huge fuss when the guards recognize his fake invite. That should cause a ruckus or distraction, is that enough to reduce the roll from Risky to Controlled?" "Yes, that'll be 1 stress, and Flint is going to be looking for the people who set him up in the future..."
Or the flashback might allow a roll that wouldn't make sense otherwise, like "Seeks sneaked over last night and installed a timed cut-off for the lights at the gate area, so there'll be a perfect opportunity to slip in. So can we make this a Tinker roll by Seeks instead of Sway?" "OK, that would almost be like a mini-mission ahead of time, but I'll allow it; it'll cost 2 stress. Go for it."

If a roll gets anything but a 6, there are also consequences - maybe harm if there's physical danger, but maybe the Lurk's lockpick breaks in the lock and has to be crossed off the equipment list, maybe the situation escalates when more guards show up because the task took too long, or maybe you start a 6-tick clock for "general alarm" and make a number of ticks (1 for Controlled, 2 for Risky, 3 for Desperate). BUT the player who rolled can resist the consequence, rolling to see how much stress is taken instead!

Stress has nothing to do with Harm, all it does is count down towards taking Trauma. Think of it as a limited resource that players use up for Pushing, Aiding, Flashbacks or Resisting consequences.

Based on the result of the action roll, maybe it resolves the situation, or if you intended the threat to be particularly tough then the players will need to take another action ("the guard you're brawling with is hardy, so you'll need to fill up a 4-tick clock. Since your action was Risky Standard and you succeeded, that's two ticks out of four, and he's still standing, brandishing his baton. He's coming at you again - what do you do now?"). Or perhaps the situation has escalated (which is common when the best roll is less than 6, or someone took a Devil's Bargain) in which case the narrative scene snowballs into more trouble for the players to roll against.

When the players get through all the trouble, it's okay to give them room to breathe, and let them progress in their score. But this is where you create the next stage with a new obstacle - often this starts Controlled, if they have been doing well, but sometimes I like to throw in a twist with a more dangerous threat, making it Risky or worse.

And just keep going, go with the flow.
 
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One more thing about Trauma: in an oversight, neither Blades in the Dark nor its first hack, Scum and Villainy, mention what the Stress limit is, in the rulebook.

It's 9. When you mark 9 Stress, you get knocked out of the narrative and gain a level of Trauma.

The separate playbook sheets for both games show 9 Stress boxes for each character, but it should have been made explicit in the rules. A case of the designer making assumptions perhaps.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
One more thing about Trauma: in an oversight, neither Blades in the Dark nor its first hack, Scum and Villainy, mention what the Stress limit is, in the rulebook.

It's 9. When you mark 9 Stress, you get knocked out of the narrative and gain a level of Trauma.

The separate playbook sheets for both games show 9 Stress boxes for each character, but it should have been made explicit in the rules. A case of the designer making assumptions perhaps.
This is because there's at least one way to increase the stress track. It's not always going to be 9.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
So I backed the Court of Blades kickstarter a few months ago, and only now just started digging into the "preview" PDF. Everything I've read so far has been tremendously compelling, and very much in line with what I hoped it would be when I backed it.

The "preview" is a 90-95% complete set of rules, minus the interior art. The premise is a Forged in the Dark take on The Three Musketeers (particularly the BBC TV series), Count of Monte Cristo, Dangerous Liaisons, Scarlet Pimpernel, etc., with hints of fey/gothic magic interspersed.

On the whole, the rules and play structure seem relatively clear, and the general tone / playstyle / player + GM authority roles seem quite similar to standard GM-led play in Ironsworn.

But I'm having questions around how exactly to structure a "score". In Court of Blades it's referred to as an "errand", which if I am reading things correctly, would be a specific set of scenes undertaken by the players to achieve the goals of their faction (one of the "Great Houses" of the city of Ilrien). For example, "Attend Baron Von Falhauser's ball, seduce Mistress Janokov to get her to reveal the location of the hidden warehouse full of smuggling goods, and retrieve the bills of lading from the Baron's vault in his upper chambers."

From what I understand, entering a "score" / "errand" is not meant to be done in a painstaking, GM-backstory-pixel-hunting, hours-long planning session.

Basically, once the "errand" is to be undertaken, the GM and players perform a quick series of engagement rolls which sets some of the initial position / effect for the players' "coterie" (the BitD equivalent of "the crew"). The dice rolled are based on the relative power levels between the player's faction and the faction being engaged, any background info, any pre-existent fiction that may help/hinder the players, etc.

But immediately after that, it's assumed the players and GM just dive in --- "Okay, you arrive at the Baron's ball, and immediately notice that there's a much stronger bureaucratic (and security) presence than you initially surmised. If Mistress Janokov remains true to form, she will either be found consuming wine along the outskirts of the dance hall, or ingratiating herself to whichever prince of the court is willing to lend an ear . . . . "

From that point, what's a typical back and forth going to look like? At what point does it become clear to the players that they may need to sacrifice some stress to introduce a flashback? As a GM how permissive vs. hard-lined should I be in requiring rolls for flashbacks, and in setting position / effect for the flashbacks, etc.?

I understand how "harm" conditions are generated through responses to action rolls, but how does stress interact with the harm conditions? What mechanical effects does accruing too much stress have on the players?
I've tagged some others to encourage them to come in any lend some aid. I'll likely offer some tomorrow, but my brain is fried this evening.
 

@innerdude , I've offered several people to watch our Blades game on Wednesday nights (tomorrow at 8:30 EST). At this point in my life, it it can't be done via post-mortem of excerpts, then the next best thing (or perhaps the first best thing) is to (a) watch an actual play loop with proficient participants and then (b) ask them about x, y, and z (anything that is particularly important to you to penetrate the mysteries of or that are unclear in your watching).

If this interests you, let me know.

I'm sick with a head flu, so the game is 50: 50 tomorrow night, but I'm pretty headstrong and stubborn so if I can run at all, the game will be on. If this interests you, just PM and I'll get you an invite to Discord.




I'm going to copy and paste a post I wrote to Malmuria the other day when he inquired. This is basically what a Blades loop looks like that I run:


my GMing is bog standard Blades in the Dark:

* Play to find out.

* Make the world real, compelling, and dangerous.

* Follow their lead (ask questions > use the answers, present opportunities > follow, telegraph threats > tell them consequences > present decision-point and ask > resolve > follow through, present thematic/dramatic need based choices).

* Follow the rules > lead an interesting conversation > follow the fiction > create an atmosphere of curiosity and transparency.



A typical play loop will look like this:

ME: Alright what is the Crew up to?

US: We collectively consider the accreted fiction to date, particularly the recent stuff. They look at the Setting/Faction Clocks that are online with particular attention paid to the stuff that is about to go boom and/or the most dangerous stuff with the worst downstream consequences. They look at their own agendas as it relates to their dramatic needs or their Friends or Rivals. They look at the Claim map.

THEM: They winnow down a list of maybe 2-3 things from a menu of maybe 5-6 things they could focus on.

US: We discuss what that would look like in the fiction, win cons, loss cons, implications on the current gamestate and fiction (eg Hold lost for a rival gang, shutting down a dangerous clock, downtiering a supernatural plague, eliminating a rival, starting a setting clock or increasing the dice pool of an existing one to help a problem, gaining faction with someone, getting a persistent asset for their loadout or a Claim, etc etc.

THEM: They winnow it down further to the Score they want to focus on for the evening.

ME: I ask them questions about what each of them are doing, what their cohorts are doing. If its just simple Info Gathering then they pick a Contact or Friend or an allied Faction and they make an Action Roll and we get a result. If its more complicated than that and/or if they're still kind of musing between a few Scores I'll just say "alright how about this...and we'll talk about a scene opener which includes a place and people and situation and then we'll run a fast-paced Free Play scene."

RESULTS: This stuff will crystalize (a) the Score target (which carries a lot of info in it from Tier to Scale to consequence space)/goal/detail (eg route, entry or attack point, the social connection...etc), (b) the locale/people involved/situation, and (c) the Engagement Roll dice pool. This stuff will create opening Position (threat level of the framed situation to open the Score) and constrain all aspects of my decision-space for framing fairly significantly. I'll have a little bit of wiggle room, but not much (and that wiggle room is, again, constrained by all other aspects of system and its all table-facing). They'll decide Loadout for each of them right before this and off we go.

CONVERSATION: From there its just the typical conversation. We'll perform any firming up of the situation that needs to be done for actions to be declared. I'll tell them the potential consequences most of the time. Sometimes, its obvious. Sometimes its more open-ended (eg if you're in Six Tower with 3 rating Occult and your Enemy is a Demon who just reconstituted via a Setting Clock that wasn't disrupted...they're now on the table to deploy). We'll sort out Effect by tallying relevant factors. One or more people will roll dice (Setup before primary Action? Group Move? Assist? Push? Cohorts involved?). If there is success, we'll move the fiction along by following it based on all of the above and the Effect (if they've got sufficient Effect to resolve the obstacle, we move to another obstacle...obstacle space is relevant to locale to Score type to Score target to locale to present goings-ons with the Crew or with the ward they're in...to whether things were complicated during Info Gathering - which is transparent conversation...if they don't have enough Effect to resolve the obstacle, either its a Clock and they need 4+ticks to resolve or if they have Limited or Standard Effect and they need Standard or Limited to resolve, then the situation will change and we'll continue until that obstacle is resolved). If there is a complication, then they'll choose to Resist and how and we'll resolve that. Etc etc.

And this is all Score dependent. If its a Transport Score through a Ward, we use a Ward map and draw a route with obstacles (and they reroute if things get hairy on their current route). If its a Social Score, then I'll tell them the Clock that gatekeeps the next Clock and if we're Tug-of-War or Mission Clocks and if the NPC is a Master Level Threat (so I'm just putting Complications on them that they can choose to Resist or not). Etc etc.

All of this continues until the win con of the Score is achieved (they make it to the destination in the Transport Score, they exfil after their infil if there is a complication at the end of their Stealth Score, after they've scorched all the earth they had set out to scorch in an Assault Score, after they've completed the Clocks to win a Social Score...etc etc)...or they bail because things have gone south...or everyone Stresses out or perishes or a mix.

PAYOFF/FACTIONS/CRIME BOSS/HEAT/ENTANGLMENT/DOWNTIME - We resolve collectively per Blades 101. The most abstract part of this is Faction and Crime Boss and we discuss together per normal conversation. Basically extrapolation of the Fiction for relevant fallout and who would be the power broker in the ward that would be most interested in/perturbed by the Crew's Score on their territory...or if there even is one.


Rinse/repeat until the Crew is toast (2 of my recent games have been crushed due to the game of spinning plates overwhelming the Crew and leading to death of members/arrests/dispersal of the Crew and the other one was just a clustereff of an early Score leading to the Crew's demise). One of them is still online and going strong at Tier 3. One is starting up just now as an Untouchables/True Detective game that is investigating the huge uptick of child abductions (its an inquisition by the state Church of Ecstasy into possible apostasy) in Duskvol. We'll see how that goes.
 

From that point, what's a typical back and forth going to look like? At what point does it become clear to the players that they may need to sacrifice some stress to introduce a flashback? As a GM how permissive vs. hard-lined should I be in requiring rolls for flashbacks, and in setting position / effect for the flashbacks, etc.?


I think a lot of this will become easier to handle the more you play. To start, I’d recommend that simple flashbacks be free. If they’re a bit complex or unlikely, go with 1 stress. Very complex or unlikely, 2 stress. Err on the side of the player at first. Also, consider asking them their thoughts on it; that may not be possible right away if they’re all new to this kind of game, but don’t be afraid to lean on the players a bit here. This stuff should be negotiable.

I’d call for a roll if the flashback involves an action that would typically require a roll; convincing someone to cause a distraction at the ball, for example.

Alternatively, if the action maps to one of the Downtime Activities (or equivalent for Court of Blades) then having them pay one coin or rep for an extra Downtime Activity would work. So, they need some uniforms to disguise themselves as the Baron’s house guard; okay, spend a coin to Acquire an Asset, and follow that process for determining the quality of the items.

For Position/Effect on rolls, I’d recommend just going with the default of Risky and Standard for the first Score/Errand or two. Get the basic process down and get comfortable with it and the other rules. Then start working Position and Effect into the game and explain it to your players.

I understand how "harm" conditions are generated through responses to action rolls, but how does stress interact with the harm conditions? What mechanical effects does accruing too much stress have on the players?

Both Harm and Stress can take a PC out of the score/errand. Harm 3 leaves you incapacitated (unless you spend stress to act) and Harm 4 is fatal. Spending all 9 stress means you’re out of the scene and you’ll take a trauma. Traumas are additional opportunities for XP by playing your character as struggling with the trauma, but they also serves as a track of your PCs viability. If you get 4 traumas, your career is over; you dir or retire or lose your mind…your story is over.

The way that Stress and Harm mainly interact is that you can resist Harm (and any consequence) by making a Resistance Roll, which may involve spending Stress. So if you’re in a duel, and you roll a 3 on your Skirmish roll to stab your opponent, he knocks your attack aside and stabs you for 2 Harm. You declare you’d like to resust this consequence. Chances are it’s a Prowess resist, so you roll your Prowess dice and take stress equal to 6 minus your highest roll. So you’ll take 0-5 stress for Resistance rolls.

Stress is easier to replenish than Harm is to clear, in my opinion. Stress should be used pretty liberally in play. Yes, deciding when and how to use it is important, but not using it means you’re less likely to achieve your goals.

I hope that helps!
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
A minor thing, I move the sliding scale for stress up and down depending on the number of players. The game is designed to work at lets say 4 players, with four stress tracks to spend. Going down to three changes that a little, and going down to two changes it a lot. Having played a Blades game with just two characters I found that stress spends became very high stakes affairs. That's a good thing, but it can go too far (not that it did in that instance, but it was great lesson in where the line is). In a game with four players I'll be more cavalier with adjudicating a spend of 1 stress for a minor flashback, whereas with less players I might let it go for free.
 




Aldarc

Legend
The genre that Court of Blades emulates seemed like a no-brainer when it comes to Forged in the Dark. In my mind, this game conjured up Italian Renaissance intrigue in things like The Borgias/Borgia, Assassin's Creed 2, the Masters of Florence, or Machiavelli's The Prince.
 

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