The importance to RPGing of *engaging* situations

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Anyhoo, I like your designator, I just don’t see it applying to these games (in fact, I would say that some of the things you’re invoking are precisely why BitD and TB are such beautifully crafted game engines that distill masterful play from skillful play from less than from “misplay city!”).
Question: in your view how well do these games play for a casual player who mostly just wants to show up for the session, knock back a beer with some friends, roll some dice, and get a few laughs from the antics of the characters?

I ask because this describes a very large cohort of players out there - including me, more often than not. :)
 

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Question: in your view how well do these games play for a casual player who mostly just wants to show up for the session, knock back a beer with some friends, roll some dice, and get a few laughs from the antics of the characters?

I ask because this describes a very large cohort of players out there - including me, more often than not. :)

Blades in the Dark and Torchbearer specifically?

While in its totality Blades is a hefty game, I’ve run it for newbies. Its designed off of Vincent Baker’s Concentric Design model (in fact, while it was released in 17, Harper was working on it with VB and the other folks that published early back then around 12-13 years ago!). So new players (without any TTRPG experience…now tenured players with cognitive particulars? Maybe different story) can easily just deal with the outer most layer of mechanics > pick things up quickly > expand from there. No problem.

Torchbearer? Oh hell no. Intricate, complex, deeply integrated, tightly tuned, unforgiving of “misplays” in succession. I would never run TB for new players. Too demanding in multiple ways.

Now Mouse Guard (the engine that Torchbearer is built off of)? I’ve run that for one of my closest friend’s 3 x young daughters (7, 10, 12 at the time). 7 year old just rabble-roused and stirred up trouble (shocker!), not really engaging with the play of the game. 10 year old was good. 12 year old was excellent (but she is extremely sharp, focused, and resilient given her history). So no problem with MG either.

I would love to run a game for you Lanefan, but I’m not convinced you would like it! I GM different games differently (obviously), but I’m not sure if I run any games where I sense you would come away from the experience joyous!
 
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pemerton

Legend
Torchbearer? Oh hell no. Intricate, complex, deeply integrated, tightly tuned, unforgiving of “misplays” in succession. I would never run TB for new players. Too demanding in multiple ways.
I've run a little bit of Torchbearer for inexperienced teenagers. The adventure phase itself wasn't too bad. We didn't get to camp or town - for a new player (including an experienced RPGer who is new to Torchbearer), I think learning how to calibrate risk and consequences in the adventure phase against the challenges of recuperation in these "downtime" phases is one of the first big challenges.

The next big challenge is working out how to reequip!
 

Question: in your view how well do these games play for a casual player who mostly just wants to show up for the session, knock back a beer with some friends, roll some dice, and get a few laughs from the antics of the characters?

I ask because this describes a very large cohort of players out there - including me, more often than not. :)
Blades (I'm actually using Sea of Dead Men - a pirate hack) is probably my favourite game to run with a semi-open table of casual players about the antics of this crew of mostly good hearted pirates. Rule is if you don't turn up for the session your character got drunk.

Torchbearer? Was made by Luke Crane to be an oD&D inspired tense dungeon crawler where whether you have enough light is important. Really not a casual drop-in game.
 

Pedantic

Legend
@hawkeyefan I agree that wanting to roll as little as possible is often anathema to play. My favourite RPGs all rely on dice rolls to adjudicate action declarations: Rolemaster back in the day, Classic Traveller, 4e D&D, Agon, BW, Torchbearer, MHRP/Cortex+ Heroic, etc, etc.

I know there is an idea that, at least in some systems, the goal is to describe one's actions with such cleverness relative to fictional position that no roll will be called for - this is often associated with classic D&D, although even Gygax in his DMG flags it as one of two equally viable approaches to discovering secret doors, and in his discussion of saving throws Gygax suggests that fictional positioning might modify the roll and result rather than obviating the need to roll altogether.

I personally don't really like that approach: as a player it makes me have to solve puzzles when I'd rather inhabit my character in emotional/aspirational terms; as a GM it makes me have to adjudicate cleverness which I'm not very clever at! Whereas in (say) BW or TB, all I have to do is come up with consequences for failure, and I've got a good imagination for that!
I wanted to touch on this, I don't really support systems that require you to play the GM in the sense described here, but I do absolutely think players should be avoiding rolling when possible, and should be able to take actions without risk, and frankly should be trying to do so. If they must take risks, the next step is to minimize both the chance of and consequences of failure.

This is generally what I'm describing as "parasitic" here, that players always take on new risks when they attempt anything at all, and that there is no course of action they can take that doesn't expose them to penalty, and depending on the system and the precise rules for "success at cost" (somewhat less an issue in Blades because you can buy off consequences with stress) that risk may be unbounded and unknowable.

I found Blades incredibly... Claustrophobic? The entire take on heists as a unit of gameplay for example. I like heists in my RPGs, they're an excellent closed loop situation to make and execute a plan with some room for improvisation if things go awry. There's a clear goal and a set of challenges to overcome (including learning about those challenges, so you can go plot to overcome them). The entire model of a heist in Blades inverts this. You improvise everything, including the plan, and declare moves in response to risk, instead of to avoid it. It's actively very frustrating to play as a result. I can never feel safe declaring an action, and any input I put into game can snap into a risk at any moment, and the game is very clear that's the intended play state.

I play games that involve risk mitigation/assessment as a primary mechanic, most significantly Netrunner, but those games still reward me for planning, and reward good decision making that limits risk or mitigates downsides. Knowing that your opponent could play a card that tags you if you run, you ensure you have sufficient economy to survive that, or don't run, unless say, the game is at match point and your only remaining out is to score the last point with a successful run.

Blades did not, in my admittedly limited experience, feel amenable to that analysis. I felt like I was being asked to make decisions without performing risk analysis. In particular the game kept insisting my character was competent, but felt like it was forcing me to play incompetently, in a way I found particular dissonant.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I would love to run a game for you Lanefan, but I’m not convinced you would like it! I GM different games differently (obviously), but I’m not sure if I run any games where I sense you would come away from the experience joyous!
Regardless of the game system, what would more likely turn me off is that you'd almost certainly be running it online (unless you've been living in Victoria all this time and I didn't know it!), and I've really come to dislike online play. :)
 

I wanted to touch on this, I don't really support systems that require you to play the GM in the sense described here, but I do absolutely think players should be avoiding rolling when possible, and should be able to take actions without risk, and frankly should be trying to do so. If they must take risks, the next step is to minimize both the chance of and consequences of failure.

This is generally what I'm describing as "parasitic" here, that players always take on new risks when they attempt anything at all, and that there is no course of action they can take that doesn't expose them to penalty, and depending on the system and the precise rules for "success at cost" (somewhat less an issue in Blades because you can buy off consequences with stress) that risk may be unbounded and unknowable.

I found Blades incredibly... Claustrophobic? The entire take on heists as a unit of gameplay for example. I like heists in my RPGs, they're an excellent closed loop situation to make and execute a plan with some room for improvisation if things go awry. There's a clear goal and a set of challenges to overcome (including learning about those challenges, so you can go plot to overcome them). The entire model of a heist in Blades inverts this. You improvise everything, including the plan, and declare moves in response to risk, instead of to avoid it. It's actively very frustrating to play as a result. I can never feel safe declaring an action, and any input I put into game can snap into a risk at any moment, and the game is very clear that's the intended play state.

I play games that involve risk mitigation/assessment as a primary mechanic, most significantly Netrunner, but those games still reward me for planning, and reward good decision making that limits risk or mitigates downsides. Knowing that your opponent could play a card that tags you if you run, you ensure you have sufficient economy to survive that, or don't run, unless say, the game is at match point and your only remaining out is to score the last point with a successful run.

Blades did not, in my admittedly limited experience, feel amenable to that analysis. I felt like I was being asked to make decisions without performing risk analysis. In particular the game kept insisting my character was competent, but felt like it was forcing me to play incompetently, in a way I found particular dissonant.

So some thoughts:

* Again, I like your classification of "Parasitic" (in that I think it does quality work to diagnose a particular form of design), but something is really off with your diagnosis of it in Blades in the Dark. It seems to me that a few things must be true for a game to qualify with your designator:

1) Either the gamestate is inherently degraded or, at some point, the gamestate must degrade (whether precipitously or suddenly) despite the inputs of the participants, and the competitive integrity of the play degraded with it, as a natural course of merely playing the game. This is because the gamestate is sufficiently decoupled from the skillfulness of the operators to render it irrelevant and...

2) This degradation must, therefore, be encoded, meaning, it must be foundational, built into the very framework/DNA of play. Play cannot escape it, either incidentally or by concerted effort of the participants (within the framework of the game engine).

So, effectively, we've got a deterministic system that has an inescapable inertia because no external force can act upon it to arrest the motion. Skillful play cannot exist. As an impartial observer, as a GM, or as a player, you cannot suss out masterful play from skillful play to poor play to "misplay city."

Alright...so, a significant part of my background is in athletic contests, martial arts (including contests), and fitness (including contests). I took up climbing 3.25 years ago. I've been running TTRPG games forever (especially games where skilled play is ether the apex priority, like Moldvay Basic, or, at least, an essential priority). I have played all of the big CRPGs that measure varying forms of skillful play (from games like Slay the Spire to all the Dark Souls to Darkest Dungeon etc). My life has, more or less, been an endless march of competition.

And I've probably GMed something like 1000 hours worth of Blades in the Dark in the last 4 years and change (I average running somewhere between 2.5 weekly TTRPG games of various sorts)?

I don't know what is going on broadly with your Blades in the Dark experience, but something is very...very...off. (1) and (2) above is just fundamentally not true. And then the conclusion of the paragraph below it is also fundamentally not true. Reading what you are saying, it seems to me (and I hope that I'm not creating offense here...but this is just my read) that you have some of...purity test (?) happening in your brain when it comes to the competitive through line of gameplay, and the attendant skillfulness metric associated with that through line, that is just a bit disconnected from the facts of the ground when it comes to any competitive enterprise. Its something like:

- if you must engage with the actual parameters of a designed game...

- and you cannot reject those baked-in parameters to establish your own parameters of engagement outside of them...

- and those parameters beset the participants with the inability to reduce their assumed risk profile to 0 or near 0 (as is the case in virtually every game designed...and not just TTRPGs)....

- then the game ceases to become a test of skill and competitive integrity because the gamestate must degrade (or is inherently degraded) to some degree whereby you feel it is decoupled from participant input.

Its like..."if you can't opt out of playing the game as-is in order to outright nullify risk...then the game ceases to become a contest of skill?" There is another saying that comes to mind; "the only way to win is not to play." If this reading of your position is correct (or its even in the vicinity of near the mark)...then something is very off here (and imo, disconnected from the reality of virtually every competitive endeavor humanity has built).

I like "Parasitic Design" as a piece of taxonomy technology. But I think (maybe I'm wrong) that there is something "off" with your assessment or you're casting your net, far, far, far too wide.




* Ok, on Blades and risk assessment specifically? Again, something befouled your play. I don't know if the GM didn't understand the system or the participants at large didn't understand the system, but this is not correct. Blades is shot through with elements (both discrete and integrated) that are fundamentally about tactical or strategic risk assessment and mitigation.

1) Every Action Roll has Position and Effect. Managing this matrix is about risk assessment and mitigation with both tactical and strategic elements. Do I want to keep my present risk/threat level (Position) or can I endure enhanced threat (by proxy of evaluating resources/approaches I can bring to bear to both (a) amplify my prospects of success and (b) mitigate or outright resolve downstream Consequences)? What are the Consequences on the table for this particular obstacle/situation? Do I like this array of Consequences (good GMing often means more than 1 Consequence on the table for any given Action Roll...eg; if its Desperate, I'll telegraph a Risky Consequence and a Controlled Consequence for players to fold into their risk assessment/decision tree) or do I want to negotiate different ones via a different approach (either a different approach to the situation entirely or a different matrix of Position/Effect)? Can I assume the risk of Desperate Position here so I can tick an xp that I need for downstream Advancement? How much Effect do I need to turn the tide of the situation or to outright resolve the Obstacle (eg I've got x ticks on a Clock remaining or I need to ensure that if the GM hits me with Reduced Effect as a Consequence, that I've got enough Effect to "carry out my play")?

2) You're managing your own Stress Pool, your Trauma totals, your own Harm and Recovery Clocks, your Cohorts' Harm, your Crew's Heat and Wanted Level, your juggling the decision-space of Threat/Faction/Setting extra-Score Clocks that might go off against you and how you can dispatch your Crew and Cohorts on Scores (the current Blades game I'm running features 2, sometimes even 3 Scores per loop) and manage your individual and collective Downtime Activities to push back against these gathering Clocks and their "go boom" results. You're managing your Claim Map. You're managing your Advances (PC and Crew) and analyzing the risks/benefits of the constellation of courses charted vs those not charted. You're managing the risk of At-War status or the realities of At-War status once you inevitably get there.

3) You're managing an evolving fiction (with looming threats in the way of Rivals and interconnected Enemy Factions and assets in the way of Friends/Contacts/Allies that need to be folded into the large decision-space that involves risk assessment in Blades) that is accumulating during the Score and up-to this point in play.

This is all deeply laden with tactical and strategic risk assessment. Its inescapable.
 
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Pedantic

Legend
We're drifting from the premise of the thread and starting to eat it, I just want to reiterate my initial point, which was "games can be fun without all the elements of plot/characterization offered by TTRPGs, and that same kind of enjoyment can exist (and in unique way and function) within them if the design allows for it."

So some thoughts:

* Again, I like your classification of "Parasitic" (in that I think it does quality work to diagnose a particular form of design), but something is really off with your diagnosis of it in Blades in the Dark. It seems to me that a few things must be true for a game to qualify with your designator:

1) Either the gamestate is inherently degraded or, at some point, the gamestate must degrade (whether precipitously or suddenly) despite the inputs of the participants, and the competitive integrity of the play degraded with it, as a natural course of merely playing the game. This is because the gamestate is sufficiently decoupled from the skillfulness of the operators to render it irrelevant and...

2) This degradation must, therefore, be encoded, meaning, it must be foundational, built into the very framework/DNA of play. Play cannot escape it, either incidentally or by concerted effort of the participants (within the framework of the game engine).

I don't think either of things follow from that definition. Take the context of my friend's 4X bee game he's intentionally designing with a parasitic core mechanic. You have a bag full of tokens that range in value from "Great-Good-Bad-Terrible" and serve as the randomizer for certain events. Using tokens to perform actions removes them from the bag, tokens leave the bag at a regular 1/turn tick, and actions that replace tokens are slightly skewed toward Bad/Terrible tokens, thus that eventually you become unable to act.

The structure of the game is then about mitigating those draws and achieving as much as possible before the randomizer works against you. You're building out a board position over time, but you're fighting against constrained choices as the game goes on and your economy will eventually collapse. Skillful play absolutely exists in how you make those choices, but ultimately you are always worse off on turn 12 than you were on turn 1.

So, effectively, we've got a deterministic system that has an inescapable inertia because no external force can act upon it to arrest the motion. Skillful play cannot exist. As an impartial observer, as a GM, or as a player, you cannot suss out masterful play from skillful play to poor play to "misplay city."

Yeah, this particularly conclusion has nothing to do with what I'm talking about. Parasitic design is about an inevitably degrading board state, not the inability to play well. Heck, there are games where you can opt in to a parasitic state, jumping back to Netrunner, you have economy engines that involve destroying portions of your deck, which will eventually run out your ability to play the game....you just plan to win before then. Admittedly, that's not a great or particularly pure example, because you still have to build a board state, so your options will expand and then ultimately contract, vs. a pure parasitic design where they can only contract.


1) Every Action Roll has Position and Effect. Managing this matrix is about risk assessment and mitigation with both tactical and strategic elements. Do I want to keep my present risk/threat level (Position) or can I endure enhanced threat (by proxy of evaluating resources/approaches I can bring to bear to both (a) amplify my prospects of success and (b) mitigate or outright resolve downstream Consequences)? What are the Consequences on the table for this particular obstacle/situation? Do I like this array of Consequences (good GMing often means more than 1 Consequence on the table for any given Action Roll...eg; if its Desperate, I'll telegraph a Risky Consequence and a Controlled Consequence for players to fold into their risk assessment/decision tree) or do I want to negotiate different ones via a different approach (either a different approach to the situation entirely or a different matrix of Position/Effect)? Can I assume the risk of Desperate Position here so I can tick an xp that I need for downstream Advancement? How much Effect do I need to turn the tide of the situation or to outright resolve the Obstacle (eg I've got x ticks on a Clock remaining or I need to ensure that if the GM hits me with Reduced Effect as a Consequence, that I've got enough Effect to "carry out my play")?

2) You're managing your own Stress Pool, your Trauma totals, your own Harm and Recovery Clocks, your Cohorts' Harm, your Crew's Heat and Wanted Level, your juggling the decision-space of Threat/Faction/Setting extra-Score Clocks that might go off against you and how you can dispatch your Crew and Cohorts on Scores (the current Blades game I'm running features 2, sometimes even 3 Scores per loop) and manage your individual and collective Downtime Activities to push back against these gathering Clocks and their "go boom" results. You're managing your Claim Map. You're managing your Advances (PC and Crew) and analyzing the risks/benefits of the constellation of courses charted vs those not charted. You're managing the risk of At-War status or the realities of At-War status once you inevitably get there.

3) You're managing an evolving fiction (with looming threats in the way of Rivals and interconnected Enemy Factions and assets in the way of Friends/Contacts/Allies that need to be folded into the large decision-space that involves risk assessment in Blades) that is accumulating during the Score and up-to this point in play.

This is all deeply laden with tactical and strategic risk assessment. Its inescapable.

Admittedly, my Blades experience doesn't span past a few one-shots, and it's possible I need to get up to a third or fourth level of management before the game starts to present possibilities for me, but I don't see how any of that is incompatible with a parasitic design.

In a heist, every action degrades your board state. You're more likely than not to not achieve what you want without further complication, you're spending resources to mitigate that complication, and/or making decisions about which complications you're willing to deal with. Outside of an unlikely critical success, there is no action you can take that improves your position, and certainly no strategy that can make those consistent. Your economy becomes more and more constrained the longer the game goes.

In point two, there's a variety of events occurring that make your board position worse at all times, you literally used the word "inevitable" which is a pretty clear indication of what I'm talking about. I have the least experience with this layer of the game and downtime, having not played a consistent enough campaign to get there, but my reading was that it had all the same issues you saw in the heist level, and recovery was calibrated to present new, largely unavoidable problems. It's possible there's another layer of the game, wherein I will finally be able to see how I can get ahead of the curve and cascade down a better board state to the earlier two, but I just did not see it when playing/reading through the game.

To be clear, I'm not saying the game didn't have decision making that produced different tactical or strategic outcomes, it clearly does, I'm just not seeing how the enforced trade-offs in every decision don't always make the board state spiral away. I'm saying it's designed so you can't win, and prides itself on that point, because it describes all of the loss conditions as interesting. Which might be true, if you're engaging with them in some other way than I was, but I found the whole thing frustrating, because I could never find a line of play that led to victory, or make a decision that felt meaningfully superior to another. Narratively, I might prefer one consequence to another, but I couldn't find a handle on mechanically how I got ahead of the game and it seemed that the game was designed not to let me do that. There was no optimal line of play I could articulate a preference for.
 

pemerton

Legend
In a heist, every action degrades your board state. You're more likely than not to not achieve what you want without further complication, you're spending resources to mitigate that complication, and/or making decisions about which complications you're willing to deal with. Outside of an unlikely critical success, there is no action you can take that improves your position
I've not played BitD - but based on my understanding of it, that last sentence isn't true.

Eg the PCs want something that is inside a building. The players declare some appropriate action (eg we sneak in through the upper story ventilation hatch; we bribe the guard). If they succeed, the PCs make it inside the building. Perhaps something else then happens (eg while squeezing through the hatch a bit of gear catches and falls, and is now lying visible on the roadway outside; the guard takes the bribe, but also extracts a promise to try and get their child an apprenticeship with one of the PCs' cousins who runs a bakery), but the PCs position is improved - instead of having a wall between them and what they want they are now inside the building with it.

In more structural terms, and alluding back to the OP: all RPGing depends upon situations being framed which pose questions to or challenges for the PCs, and thus the players. Or, at least, when a PC ceases to face any such situations their "story" is done. So in any ongoing RPG, the players (and their PCs) are always going to have unsatisfied desires, reasons to do things, causes for concern. BitD isn't unusual in having this be the case; what makes it and (to various extents) PbtA, and Torchbearer, and Burning Wheel, distinctive is that the GM's introduction of such things is gated via the players' dice rolls. It is not "at large" to the same degree as in (say) DL-style or 2nd ed-era AD&D.

I'm just not seeing how the enforced trade-offs in every decision don't always make the board state spiral away. I'm saying it's designed so you can't win, and prides itself on that point, because it describes all of the loss conditions as interesting.

<snip>

Narratively, I might prefer one consequence to another, but I couldn't find a handle on mechanically how I got ahead of the game and it seemed that the game was designed not to let me do that. There was no optimal line of play I could articulate a preference for.
To me, this seems consistent with @Manbearcat's remark about "the only way to win is to not play".

As best I can tell, the way you win in BitD is by achieving the consequences that are narratively preferred. Look, for instance, at @kenada's post:

Our crew has gone from tier 0 weak to tier IV weak. We’re a major player in Duskvol now.

<snip>

we are rapidly approaching a point where we could subvert or take over the government after having started as basically nobodies.

<snip>

we do have a lot of alliances and enemies and obligations
In this respect I would say the game compares to 4e D&D, Torchbearer (as I've experienced it), Burning Wheel, and MHRP/Cortex+ Heroic. There is no point at which the game is beaten, in the sense that the core mechanical/system framework is overcome such that players, via their PCs, can obtain what they want without risk of consequence. (An exception: I think MHRP/Cortex+ risks degeneration when there are too many d12 abilities on the PC sheets, although I haven't fully tested this conjecture by playing any of the Annihilation scenarios which are build around such characters.)

This would contrast with AD&D or B/X, where somewhere around 7th to 10th level, especially if the PCs are predominantly casters, the players overtake the ostensible game system and essentially dictate outcomes, with playing the fiction being the only real resolution mechanism left (Tomb of Horrors is an especially stark manifestation of this tendency, but I think it manifest in more "organic" ways also).
 

Yeah, this particularly conclusion has nothing to do with what I'm talking about. Parasitic design is about an inevitably degrading board state, not the inability to play well. Heck, there are games where you can opt in to a parasitic state, jumping back to Netrunner, you have economy engines that involve destroying portions of your deck, which will eventually run out your ability to play the game....you just plan to win before then. Admittedly, that's not a great or particularly pure example, because you still have to build a board state, so your options will expand and then ultimately contract, vs. a pure parasitic design where they can only contract.
I get what you are saying - but Blades in the Dark absolutely does not fit that mold. It has a deliberately precarious board state - but you level up and tier up over time. Although it has lower lows than most D&D games the overall trajectory of Blades characters and especially a Blades crew is to struggle upwards through the mud with some falling along the way but others not in the same way it is in e.g. Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay.

The only RPGs I can think of (other than maybe Call of Cthulhu where your Sanity in particular only ever goes down) that are parasitic in the way you describe are one-shots. In Fiasco you go into the game expecting and intending ... a fiasco. Montsegur 1244 is a GMless game where almost everyone will have to either recant or be burned at the stake. Dread of course uses the Jenga tower and that always makes the situation worse. But these are one shots and take the right mood.
Admittedly, my Blades experience doesn't span past a few one-shots, and it's possible I need to get up to a third or fourth level of management before the game starts to present possibilities for me, but I don't see how any of that is incompatible with a parasitic design.

In a heist, every action degrades your board state. You're more likely than not to not achieve what you want without further complication, you're spending resources to mitigate that complication, and/or making decisions about which complications you're willing to deal with. Outside of an unlikely critical success, there is no action you can take that improves your position, and certainly no strategy that can make those consistent. Your economy becomes more and more constrained the longer the game goes.
By your definition of Parasitic Design Dungeons & Dragons is textbook parasitic design. Every spell you cast is a spell crossed off and resources being spent. Every time you take damage that's fewer resources you have for the rest of the day. Every single action you take in D&D under your definition unless the DM is specifically throwing you a bone at best keeps the board state neutral and most of them degrade it. ("What is an old school dungeon crawl if not a poorly planned heist?" - Cortex Plus). So we have exactly the same situation in D&D that you are decrying in Blades in the Dark.

So what's the difference? I think that it's that you've been playing one shots and only one shots in Blades. You've been playing the equivalent of a version of D&D in which you never level up and there is for practical purposes is no reward for the heist/dungeon crawl. Levelling's actually relatively fast in Blades; after you have your first trauma you should be getting an average of about 5XP at the end of each session plus any you earned for desperate actions. It takes 6XP for an extra skill point or 8 for an extra playbook move. You should be therefore getting an extra character dot at the end of literally almost every session (and an extra ability on your party Crew Sheet about every other session plus whatever territory you take).

And yes skill dots and crew abilities both matter significantly. There's a huge difference between 2d6 pick the lowest for being unskilled and 2d6 pick the highest.
 

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