Duskwall Heist: Spoiling the Punchline

So I released this deck for Blades in the Dark. You can see the process for using the cards under the heist outline. Here’s a fast example heist; it is not only a demonstration, but a ready-to-go heist a GM could insert into a game as-is.

 

Spoiling the Punchline

The crew is contacted by a nervous small-time offender, who tells them if they know what’s good for them they’ll accept an invitation to a tavern near the city offices for the Crow’s Foot District. If they go, they find two big bodyguards protecting a back corner, where a plump grandmotherly woman wants to talk to them.

She is Commissioner Naria Haig, one of the sharpest politicians in Duskwall. She wants their help. Holtz Clermont is the City Clerk for the Crow’s Foot District. At city expense, he has retrofitted one of the towers that houses equipment for the Lightning Walls that protect the city from the starving swarms of ghosts outside, so its defenses can also be applied to certain sensitive treasures seized in the course of enforcing the law.

She has come to find out that in a raid that uncovered some illegal treasures, never mind where, Clermont noted the acquisition of the Combination Harpsichord. This artifact has tuning pegs attached to crystals and runes, so playing certain chords and progressions can affect the Ghost Field and its perception.

Clermont retrofitted the tower because it is rumored to be the last resting place of the Censer Mace of Udoch, where the noble family entrusted to its safekeeping hid it in a “shadow room” that only exists in the Ghost Field now. They hid it so well no one could find the room, much less find a way in to it.

Now Clermont is in the market for a whisper who can use the Combination Harpsichord to find the ghost room that is hiding the censer mace. If he gets that object he can retire in style and with significant influence in the Church of the Ecstasy of the Flesh (who will also be emboldened, if they get the artifact.) The weapon’s head opens, and if a certain incense is burned in it, the weapon can (according to legend) slay ghosts and demons with a hit.

Commissioner Haig wants to hire them. She controls significant wealth, but maybe more to the point, she can affect their Wanted rating. She wants that censer mace, she wants the crew to steal it for her before Clermont can get it. She doesn’t care if they have a Whisper who gets hired and betrays him, or if they find the hired Whisper’s identity and subvert her or him, or if they know an eerie musician who can use the Combination Harpsichord to best effect; their methods are up to them, and she’ll do her best to shield them from the worst of the consequences should things get ugly. She doesn’t even care if they loot other valuables from the lockup (including evidence of crimes committed by the crew, or other crews.)

Defenses are fierce. The tower has a massive plasm generator. Some of that energy is routed to some strategic door handles and floor plates, to shock intruders who don’t know not to touch them. Also, several defensive points have lightning walls installed, miniature versions of the great walls that protect the city. Finally, the exact location of the shadow room is not known, and it may have defenses within that Commissioner Haig can’t know about. And, of course, well armed city guards.

Commissioner Haig concludes by telling them Clermont will waste no time now–he knows he doesn’t have forever to find the mace before he has competition. They might have hours, days, or up to a week, but he’s moving fast and they should too. Good luck!

Now the players start thinking about ways around those defenses, and the GM can start rounding out the heist with further twists and turns! But that’s enough to kick things off and let the glorious improvisation ramp up.

The idea here is that you could need a heist in short order, and generate one with the cards. You draw two important people, figuring one will hire you to hit the other one. Then you draw a treasure card; the heist has something to do with that. Finally, draw three special obstacles to add to the sort of obstacles you’d already expect.

Synthesize it all together, and you’ve got some inspiration for the heist location, and some ideas for how it all fits together. You can either do it fast, on the spot, or some time ahead and give your back-brain time to simmer over it and refine the ideas.

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Silent Legions: Investigation

I want to add a bit more structure to the investigation in Silent Legions. I know there are people who object to reducing things to die rolls, and that’s utterly sensible. Sometimes, however, you want the game to move faster without penalizing the players or characters. If there’s some basic information to get, it’s reasonable to rely on the combination of skill and luck that characterizes a skill roll or saving throw.

So, I’m thinking there are roughly 4 hour blocks (2 to 6 hours) for character activity that the players gloss over. This can be used for research, legwork, or analysis. This investigation point-buy system should not be used if there is danger present.

The skill roll in Silent Legions is 2d6 + attribute modifier + skill modifier. Then there is a difficulty, set at 6 for a basic task, increasing at intervals of 2. Spending a point of expertise grants +6 points. (So that’s a minimum of 8 from the dice, disregarding skill and attribute modifiers, which seems about equivalent to “automatically succeeding” on a skill roll.)

The GM can prepare a pool of facts that could be found, either ahead of time or on the fly, assigning a cost of 1-4 to each piece of information. Every point past the first 4 that a character generates is a spending pool to get information, and the GM picks what to reveal based on the line of inquiry and methods of the player.

The GM can also use those numbers to estimate how much to reveal from what’s going on in the bigger story–including how much stuff to make up that might add wrinkles on the fly.

Example: Some PCs head to a crime scene. Jill is going to use forensics to look the place over, and Jack is going to question potential witnesses. Jill rolls an 8, so she can expect to get 4 points worth of information. Jack rolls a 10, so he can expect 6 points of information.

So back to the example, Jill might find out that the attacker was known to the victim, who let the attacker in and was surprised by the assault (2 points) and that the attacker was about 6 feet tall and very strong, through a composite of details (2 points).

Jack might find out there were sounds of an argument between a man and his victim (2 points) and that the building super probably saw something, because he disappeared right after the crime (2 points) and that’s all the GM can think of. Jack’s player wants to follow up on where the super might have gone, and has 2 points left, so the GM has a building resident tell him the super has talked about how he used to maintain cabins at the campground in the summertime (2 points.)

After all, a 10 is a GREAT result and indicates that he did some high-quality investigating, so he SHOULD get more out of the encounter, since he has time for follow-up questions and finding others in the know.

This is designed for processing masses of paperwork and numerous interviews and research sessions and so on that are boring but yield useful information. If players want to play through stuff, that’s fine too! Ideally there would be a mix, where sometimes they fall back and let their characters be experts, and other times they take point and pursue what interests them by investigating through their characters.

When handing out information, the GM can do so one piece at a time, so the player can direct the character’s inquiry and focus on how far the character can get with answering questions based on the information available.

This is an optional pacing tool, so players can follow up on lots of stuff quickly and refocus on where the fun is, rather than doing due diligence with their characters and going through all the details. Characters have to do work and endure suffering. Players should be having fun.

Other Optional Tools I’ll Be Using

  • Assistance. If a character is helping another character, then the acting character can roll 2d6, and the assistant can allow re-rolling 1d6. OR, the assisting character can grant a bonus equal to [relevant skill rating +1] to the roll. The assisting character can decide which after the acting character rolls. If a second character can help (depending on the circumstances) one can add a bonus and the other can allow a rereoll.
  • The Hostile City. Once a day the GM can call for a Luck or Evade saving throw for navigating the city streets and/or bureaucracies. On a failure, there is some bad luck, of varying severity. (I was doing this every significant journey through the city, but I will scale it back. Great idea for spice, but let’s not upstage the plot.)
  • Combat Feats. Sometimes you want to do something besides damage. To knock a target prone, or disarm a target, roll to hit. Instead of doing damage, you can force the target to make an appropriate saving throw or suffer the effect.
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SILENT LEGIONS: Greener Grass. Part 4

Greener Grass Nameplate

Session 1 notes. Session 2 notes. Session 3 notes.

So Terry went home, Arnie went to bed, and Truc stared through the file a while longer before sleeping over at Arnie’s place. When Terry got home, he sensed someone had been there; everything was not where he left it (but the intruder didn’t trash the place.) Great.

The next morning he texted Arnie to let him know his place had been broken into, all clean and quiet. Then he headed to work. Arnie woke Truc up and told him about it, and Truc had a quiet sense of professional curiosity, wanting to see the thief’s handiwork. Also, he knew where Terry lived, because it had come up in conversation previously. So, they decided to go take a look.

Terry’s Apartment

Traffic was suspiciously fine. They made it to Terry’s apartment building. Truc buzzed all the apartments, knowing someone would let him in (and someone did.) They headed up to Terry’s place on the sixth floor. No new or unusual scratches on the lock.

They looked the place over. Truc noticed the patio door to the shallow balcony, and in the bathroom he saw that the very small window had been opened recently (and it was not often opened.) Looking out, he saw that someone had climbed over from the balcony. And this was on the sixth floor. So, the intruder was a great climber and quite slim.

Arnie meanwhile noticed that the computer had been fiddled with, but it was old and didn’t have anything useful on it. (At a glance, anyway; they didn’t turn it on.) Also a drawer of personal files had been riffled. He headed into the kitchen and saw a delightful little one-serving coffee maker (a cute little Keurig), and a cabinet tumbled full of little cups. He also noticed the water supply had something grainy in it, and that coffee had been made that morning.

Arnie looked at the sediment more closely, but couldn’t tell anything about it. Still, they were concerned. Arnie sent Terry a text that the coffee might have been poisoned, and as a side note, they were in his apartment.

Meanwhile Terry had felt a numbing tingle in his left arm, and realized he was having a heart attack; he downed a handful of asprin and called an ambulance, before passing out.

The Hospital

Terry made it to the hospital so the staff could work on him, but he felt terrible, and was not doing well. Truc and Arnie called his work and found out he had been taken to St. Ellsworth hospital, so they rushed to the hospital, taking the naughty Keurig with them.

Terry was briefly lucid, and his knowledge of science narrowed it down the chemical it likely was, and how to treat it, before he lapsed again into unconsciousness.

They had difficulty finding someone to talk to about the poison, because the nurses were Teflon-coated busy and the doctors had wraithlike abilities to completely avoid contact with people. They consulted Terry’s chart to find that his doctor was Dr. Evan Wilson, and they headed out to the nurse station.

Identifying an unpopular nurse, they gossipped about her next to the nurse station until one of the nurses jumped in enthusiastically. Then they persuaded her to locate Dr. Wilson for them, and she did; nurses were like bounty hunters when it came to tracking down elusive doctors.

When Wilson showed, and they presented their coffee maker, he was alarmed; the current drugs were worse than useless, could damage him if it was this poison. He immediately made the switch to a different treatment, and the improvement in Terry’s condition was apparent.

Time to Go

Truc and Arnie stepped out to finish off contact with the nurse, and Special Agent Waters came by to see Terry.

He warned Terry this was not the first poisoning, and said he hated to see him like this. But the hospital wasn’t safe. And he gave him three little red pills; he left as Truc and Arnie returned.

They recognized the drug as an amphetamine, Red Headed Stepchild, used to get battered fighters up on their feet and drug overdose victims moving again. Terry took the drug, and got an unholy rush of nervous energy. They got him back into his clothes, collected his gun and badge, and checked him out all stealthy like.

Somebody had stolen the handicapped sign, but it was still a handicapped spot, and there was a parking ticket on Arnie’s car.

In the car, Terry was forced to slow down; that led to… unpleasant hallucinations.

They headed back to Arnie’s place, and Arnie had a drug designed to level out an overdose. Terry took it, and his heart didn’t explode, so… alright so far. They determined they had better check on the P.I., Keys.

Elliott Keys, P.I.

They drove over to his place, a home office in the upper back quarter of a divided up former mansion. While Terry fumed and paced in front of the building, Arnie and Truc mounted the two story staircase bolted to the side of the building, still deciding whether to sneak in or stroll in.

They saw into the office, where Keys was passed out drunk at his desk snoring. Truc snuck in and looked the desk over, seeing the detective’s case notebook. He tossed it out to Arnie, who read it over quickly and took pictures of the pages with his phone.

Turns out the detective was hired by Dr. Cook after her meeting with Terry in the hall. She wanted him to investigate Wilcox and Buck. He did, finding that Wilcox was actually a cover identity provided by the Underground, a shady criminal organization.

Keys had contacts with them, so he found out Wilcox’s true identity. He was a con man, Sam Chandler, a native, with a decade long prison record. He got hired at the EPA mid-December and was already indispensable.

Keys looked into Buck, and heard about Terry there too, which was interesting.

They put his notebook back and snuck out, undetected. They collected Terry where he was ranting at a woman on the street, and left. The drugs were taking a toll on Terry, who deflated some in the back seat.

Bermuda

What now? They decided to have a conversation with Bermuda.

Traffic was a gnarled mess on the way over; they forgot about the marathon that started Downtown. Yeah, in January. And it was supposed to sleet later. The radio personalities were making fun of the marathon and hoping it would get sleeted on.

They arrived outside Bermuda’s building just as he was headed to his car to leave; they assumed it was him, as he was wearing a floral shirt, sunglasses, socks and sandals.

Arnie positioned the car as though waiting for his spot, as Truc left the back of the car and circled around Bermuda. He said it was time for a conversation; Bermuda pulled a stun gun, and Truc shook it loose. Bermuda called for the cops, and Terry popped up, all overdosed and looking like death warmed over. They all agreed to move the conversation to the lobby of the apartment building.

Bermuda agreed to talk about Savage D for $200, and Arnie showed up from parking in time to help out with that. Turns out Savage D had a heart attack last night. Who hired him? Bermuda wanted another $200 for that, as it was more dangerous, and they agreed.

Savage D was trying to move up in the world, getting $5,000 per hit against civilians, paid in a brown paper bag. There was no solid evidence or paper trail, but from what he overheard, Bermuda thought he was working for a woman with mob connections named Tanya Stevens. She operated out of the VIP boxes in Fenwick Gardens, the massive sports entertainment venue underground below Downtown. And she has a tough bodyguard.

The Edge of Escalation

They let him go, and Terry called in a favor at the office to have Stevens’ file pulled. He got the main points over the phone; she was supposed to be hired sort of through nepotism, likely connections to the Chicago mob, no criminal record, bodyguard named Marvin Parks who was some kind of Zen master. He DID have a criminal record, big fan of civil disobedience for the rights of marginalized groups.

Hm. They returned to the car, and Terry reluctantly called Special Agent Waters to see if he could bring in Federal help on this matter. He agreed to meet them, at a parking structure on the 4th floor in 30 minutes.

The temperature was steadily dropping, and they found the parking structure’s 4th floor was closed for construction, with an office area already walled in but unfinished. They saw Agent Waters’ rental car, and his thin form waiting for them.

He told them they were on the edge of something big enough to be deadly, and that loose ends were being tied up now to prevent tracing back to anything bigger. He talked to some people on their behalf, and got them the chance to walk away. If they let this lay, then they wouldn’t be loose ends. If they kept digging, well…

Arnie and Truc doubled down and said they planned to see this through, while Terry was strangely quiet. Waters shrugged, wished them well, and drove away, leaving them in the increasingly deep and unpleasant cold…

The End! For now!

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Duskwall Heist: The Golden Mask

So I released this deck for Blades in the Dark.

 

 

The idea here is that you could need a heist in short order, and generate one with the cards. You draw two important people, figuring one will hire you to hit the other one. Then you draw a treasure card; the heist has something to do with that. Finally, draw three special obstacles to add to the sort of obstacles you’d already expect.

Synthesize it all together, and you’ve got some inspiration for the heist location, and some ideas for how it all fits together. You can either do it fast, on the spot, or some time ahead and give your back-brain time to simmer over it and refine the ideas.

Anyway, here is a smash-’em-out quick heist I did with the deck.

The print deck has 50 obstacles with questions to help customize them, and on the back, suggestions for scaling them to be more or less difficult. It also has 40 cards with an important person on one side, and a treasure on the other.

The .pdf deck has 30 obstacles with questions to help customize them, 20 important people, and 20 treasures. It is a 10 page document you print out and cut up yourself.

Both have an instruction page to help make heists.

The Golden Mask

A mysterious old man wants to hire the crew for a heist. (If they push, or if they have a whisper or other skilled attune capacity they see that it is a ghost possessing an old man. If they push, they can find out it is Sir Mournseller, an anarchist ghost who possesses old men from the Draymach Asylum and breaks them out so he can hire scoundrels for missions only he understands. If he can, he’ll keep the job mysterious and anonymous.) He promises to pay them by telling them where a stash of old paintings are.

As it turns out, Holtz Clermont is the City Clerk for the whole district. He has recently acquired through a shady deal an artifact that is more powerful than he realizes. He thinks it is just a pretty mask, but he has the Dyvik’s Chaser mask. The mysterious old man needs that, and they can keep anything else they find.

The old man knows that Clermont has a stash of ill-gotten goods out of the city tax man’s eye, tucked away under an abandoned outdoor stage at the back of a foreclosed aristocratic estate at the edge of the nearby wealthy district. The old man is willing to share the combination of stones to push to get the secret passage at the base of the stage to open, and from there they can go down to the treasure chamber.

The property is patrolled by some of the worst of the worst city guards, overpaid and loyal to Clermont alone. They keep their pack of vicious dogs on the estate, using its grounds as a kennel when the dogs aren’t dragged along with them on patrol. They’ve turned the stables near the stage into their own private tavern, away from prying eyes.

What the old man does NOT tell them that they can find out by asking around is that these guards, the Fangers, are notorious sadists. They are drunk with power and only their pull through Clermont keeps them out of jail. He uses them to intimidate victims, and the dogs are used for bloody executions out of the public eye.

What the old man does not even know is that Clermont arranged for a “vine curtain” to be grown over the outdoor stage. It snatches anyone or anything that comes close enough, coiling them over to a trapdoor in the stage; below is a big semi-aware root with spikes protecting it. Those captured in the vine are rescued by the guards, who then torture them in whatever way pleases them. The guards and dogs know enough to stay clear of the vines unless retrieving a victim.

The old man also does not tell them about the mask’s unique quality. If someone speaks its command word (which is etched along its inner edge) then the spirit of the one holding it is pulled into the mask. The spirit in the mask is released into the body. Who might be trapped in there, waiting for a host, and what business does Sir Mournseller have with the personality trapped in the mask?

 

Now the players start thinking about ways around those defenses, and the GM can start rounding out the heist with further twists and turns! But that’s enough to kick things off and let the glorious improvisation ramp up.

mask draw explained

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Duskwall Heist Deck .pdf!

Duskwall heist deck nameplate

Now you can get a trimmed down version of the heist deck, in .pdf form! It has 30 obstacles (without scaling suggestions), 20 important people, and 20 treasures. You can print the cards out yourself.

http://tinyurl.com/jn7ong5

 

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“An Afternoon Wedding”

Here is a story I wrote around the turn of the century, in the world I designed for my B/X game, and used in my 3E game. It is designed to have some quaint D&D feel, and it was written for Valentines Day, so it has some romance too.

The only PC from my game world is Sylvana, my wife’s character. The only NPC is Task. Everybody else was made up for the story.

Look, it’s a D&D story that has an actual dungeon, and an actual dragon, and orcs, and so on. Plus true love. So, if you’d like, have a read. Just for fun. On me.

An Afternoon Wedding revised 5.04

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Whipping Up a Heist in Duskwall

So I released this deck for Blades in the Dark.

Duskwall heist deck nameplate

The idea here is that you could need a heist in short order, and generate one with the cards. You draw two important people, figuring one will hire you to hit the other one. Then you draw a treasure card; the heist has something to do with that. Finally, draw three special obstacles to add to the sort of obstacles you’d already expect.

Synthesize it all together, and you’ve got some inspiration for the heist location, and some ideas for how it all fits together. You can either do it fast, on the spot, or some time ahead and give your back-brain time to simmer over it and refine the ideas.

Anyway, here is a smash-’em-out quick heist I did with the deck.

Tempest in a Teacup

Minister Fourteen calls the crew in. He’s a blind Skovlander who holds court on the docks, usually in a grungy basement. He sent his messenger Throk to get the crew, and now he’s talking things over with them.

Turns out he’s got a line on a teacup. Not just any teacup–it’s from the Kasavaraya Tea Set, a famous bit of tableware. When the Immortal Emperor first came to Akoros 400 years ago, he used the tea set with the patriarch of the Kasavaraya family. The family still has the whole set, which is a major prestige piece-except for one cup, and one saucer.

Minister Fourteen has heard that Serlevica the Brander, a spy Whisper, may have found the teacup. She is served by a small army of rats. She brands them, and then can see through their eyes to scout and explore and so on.

She recently dropped out of sight, muttering something about having found something big. Minister Fourteen used his not inconsiderable spy network to try and figure out what she might be hiding, and he thinks he knows.

Anyway, he can’t move against her directly. So, plausible deniability, etc. that comes with hiring the crew to do this all quiet-like. He recommends they bring the cup to him, as he’ll pay them handsomely for it, and it’s a difficult thing to monetize (but he’s got the right contacts to use it for proper leverage.)

Serlevica is hiding out in the Sandwall Point, an abandoned ruin of a lighthouse. Word on the street is that she has enchanted the busted lanterns around the place so they light up bright if they detect life force, so she will be difficult to surprise.

She has also been offering food and drugs to the nearby destitute, so there is a veritable pack of crazy beggars squatting around the only easy entry point by land. Getting in or out that way will be a problem, and they’ll be alert to light from the lanterns.

Finally, Minister Fourteen caught wind that she had something to protect when she hit a locksmith’s store and cleaned out all his padlocks. She’s likely secured herself in the labyrinthene tunnels under the lighthouse, with her rats to keep an eye out for her, and her maniac beggars, and her magic lanterns. That’s why he’s paying them so well–if it was easy, anyone could do it.

Now the players start thinking about ways around those defenses, and the GM can start rounding out the heist with further twists and turns! But that’s enough to kick things off and let the glorious improvisation ramp up.

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