Blades in the Dark Campaign Session 0: The Ghost Bones

We just kicked off a new Blades in the Dark campaign yesterday. After running a wild one-shot last summer, I wanted to run a full game. I’m definitely excited to see how the faction game plays out over multiple sessions.

Roll20

We planned this game before the COVID-19 pandemic and planned to play in person. With the advent of physical distancing, we decided to move the game online. We have all played in person together but have not explored the world of online roleplaying, so this was a new endeavor for us. I followed the advice kindly presented on the Blades website to get setup on Roll20. I didn’t find Roll20 had much of a learning curve. There were a few things that were a bit odd, but it didn’t take me very long to have character sheets and rules handouts set up. The only thing that didn’t work was the video/voice chat (as we suspected might be the case), so we switched over to Zoom.

Characters

The goal for Session 0 was to create characters and the crew together and then do a quick score. Presenting your scoundrels:

Dick “Cuffs” Sinclair is an Akorosi Cutter. Cuffs is a no-nonsense quick-talking thug. He was a moderately successful trader during the Unity War with Skovland, but after the war boom his company went bankrupt. He blames the Skovlanders, whom he now despises. He’s addicted to gambling. His favorite activity is betting on the leviathan hunts. If no one’s taking bets on that, he gambles on boxing matches at Grist’s place in the docks. Rumors are he might occasionally get his buddy Marlane the prize-fighter to throw fights…

Dick Sinclair, aka Cuffs
Dick Sinclair, aka Cuffs

Vey “Silver” Faros is an Iruvian Lurk. By day, he’s a respected and refined member of an Iruvian noble family. By night, he’s a thief and infiltrator. We learned during the session that he doesn’t like the local Iruvian nobility for some reason. His grandmother might have murdered one of the founders of the Red Sashes Sword Academy? His vice is slumming it at Singer’s bathhouse in Crow’s Foot.

Vey Faros, aka 'Silver'
Vey Faros, aka 'Silver'

Orlan “Grimey” Grines is a Skovlan Leech. He’s a thin old man with glasses. He was a war scientist for Skovland during the Unity War. Now he’s a bone tinkerer and physicker in Duskvol. Sister Thorn over at the Gaddoc Rail Station funnels him weird artifacts and specimens from the Deathlands, fueling some strange compulsion or ritual practice.

Orlan Grines, aka 'Grimey'
Orlan Grines, aka 'Grimey'

The final member of our gang is Weaver Virgil Goodwin, a Severosi street urchin turned contraband bike courier. They are ambiguously gendered and well-known around Crow’s Foot for running illegal goods. What the citizens of Crow’s Foot don’t know is that ‘Eav secretly worships at the ruins of the Temple of the Forgotten Gods with her priestess pal, Ilacille. As soon as Weaver’s player described how they were an early adopter of safety bike technology, I immediately thought of this amazing Hark, A Vagrant comic.

Weaver Virgil Goodwin
Weaver Virgil Goodwin

Introducing the Ghost Bones

We had a quick conversation after players chose their playbooks to see what kind of crew they would play. I thought it might help with character direction if players had the gang in mind. They decided on Smugglers. While Orlan’s player was filling out their sheet, they became somewhat obsessed with the idea of being able to “Tinker with bones, blood, and bodily humours,” possible with the Physicker special ability. At some point the idea was floated that the gang could be called the “Bone Ghosts.” We liked that but eventually realized that the Ghost Bones was even cooler, since, you know, ghosts don’t have bones? Presumably?

So, the Ghost Bones.

This newly-formed gang of smugglers makes their lair in a sunken grotto under the Taffetta Bridge north of Tangletown. They pissed off the Red Sashes when they moved in to their turf, but have recently allied with the Lampblacks and paid off the Crows to keep them off their backs, for now. They started with a squad of safety bikes for running contraband, as well as a hidden lair and a workshop for Grimey’s tinkering. They also all have a shared contact down at the Docks, Elynn, who helps them bring in contraband off the boats.

The Black Tree and a Bone-Rattling Bomb

We jumped into a quick score that I was hoping we could wrap up in 30 minutes but ended up taking almost an hour. It felt like a lot to do character creation in earnest and do a score, but I’m glad we at least got to roll some dice. We were going for about 3.5 hours in total. In future sessions we can cut right to the action, which will be great.

I ran the setup to how I did the one-shot, explaining the starting situation in Crow’s Foot:

We established that Vey doesn’t like the local Iruvian nobles, so siding with the Red Sashes wouldn’t fly. The gang agreed to help the Lampblacks with their smuggling needs. Bazso asked them to plant a strange artifact in The Black Tree, a Red Sash dream smoke den in the Docks. The artifact was a very dense metal cube with runes carved into it and copper wires protruding from various ports on its surface. Holding it gives you immediate and painful headaches.

The players decided they wanted to take a Social approach to the score, with the detail being that their contact Elynn at the docks would help get them into the establishment, where they could plant the device. At this point we should have rolled and just gone with it - I need to be more forceful. The natural inclination is to keep planning and to think of contingencies etc., which the group started doing immediately. Next time I’ll be more forceful: pick the plan and roll. You can always flashback.

We were going ahead with this plan when a sudden idea occurred to the players: what if they do a double-cross where they convince the Red Sashes this artifact is a powerful donation to their cause, getting them to hold onto it willingly? They decided that was the way forward, with Elynn now helping by helping get the artifact off a boat, adding to the illusion that this was a smuggled and valuable object.

We did the Engagement Roll: +1d for luck, +1d for daring, +1d for exploiting their weakness while desperate for an edge in a gang war, and +1d for having Elynn help out. Then, -2d for the difference in Tier between the Tier 0 Ghost Bones and the Tier II Red Sashes. Which I now see should have been just -1d. But they got a 6,5, anyway, meaning a Controlled start to the score.

We cut to the artifact packed in a wooden box with straw being lowered on a crane from a ship, Elynn assisting and all the Ghost Bones gathered around. Three Red Sashes, clad in silk robes with swords at their belts, stood waiting. They brought a cart pulled by a large Akorosi goat, the traditional cartage animal in Duskvol.

As Cuffs hyped up the power of the artifact, one of the Red Sashes started looking suspiciously at the box, trying to get a peek inside. They were obviously curious about the contents. Weaver decided to distract them before they asked too many questions, Consorting with them, Assisted by Cuffs. They tried to turn the topic of conversation to the war with the Lampblacks and to set them at ease. They got a 4,4,3 so I introduced a complication.

As the cart started moving through the docks towards the Black Tree, the Sashes stopped worrying too much about the box and instead turned their attention on Vey. One of them started grilling him on his noble background. They dug into his lineage and established his noble line. Eventually they determined his grandmother was the member of an Iruvian house that killed the founder of the Red Sash Sword Academy. This fact made them mighty suspicious. Vey tried to defuse the situation by changing the subject and rolled Sway with an assist from Weaver: 1,4. This bought them some time, but I created a 6-segment clock “Red Sash Suspicion” and marked 2 segments.

At this point the crew was feeling a bit on edge and started thinking of elements they wanted to add to the plan. This opened up a great moment to introduce flashbacks. There was an initial idea to have Cuff’s buddy Marlane show up and cause a distraction, but Orlan came to the rescue with a well-timed distraction explosion. He flashed back to Tinkering with an improvised explosive along the transit route that could be pinned on the Lampblacks and would add some hustle to the operation. He was assisted by Cuffs, who blamed the Lampblacks and - if I recall - pretended to see some running away from the scene. Orlan rolled 3d and got a 6,1,6 result, a crit! I bumped up the effect to Great and judged that the explosion was very well-timed and had exactly the intended effect.

The Sashes and the Ghost Bones rushed to the Black Tree and delivered the artifact. Time will tell if the Sashes’ suspicion grows and what effect this mysterious artifact might have.

Header image: “Skeletons (calaveras) riding bicycles” - José Guadalupe Posada, Met Museum (ca. 1900)