In re-reading this Alexandrian article, I was struck by the idea of the “toolkit.” In the context of the article, they are designed as the tools that the villain uses to thwart the goals of the party. These are the sources of conflict, and, by my estimation, roughly analogous to the sort of go-to obstacles a villain (and therefore a GM) can throw at the players. The article divides the tools into toolkits into categories of personnel, equipment, physical locations, and information.
I’ve also kept re-reading Blades in the Dark, and I found a paragraph on page 195 that I think gets to the heart of how the designer intended the game to be played, sans any sort of prep. In the paragraph, there is a discussion of “potential fiction”, described as a “cloud of potential in your head”, elements to be pulled out of the ether and put into the “established fiction” of the game world. The section lists an example of one such cloud:
Courtyard (wide open? filled with statuary?)
Rooftop (loose tiles)
The section describes how this cloud is kept in the GM’s head, and might change as the game changes. However, it is difficult for me to hold a loose set of potential obstacles in my brain while running the game, let alone generating them and adjusting them on the fly. What I can do is write these sorts of ideas down, usually as prep. And wouldn’t you know, this cloud looks a lot like the Alexandrian’s toolkit and my obstacles.
The toolkit also looks a lot like the faction Assets listed in the Blades in the Dark book for each faction. This, in turn gave me the idea that it might be possible to pull the tools needed for the toolkit out of the Blades in the Dark book, even if they are a bit scattered.
Defining Our Tools
I’m not sure how the Alexandrian article landed on their categorization of tools, but I can guess that it was roughly set out as a sort kitchen sink, here’s everything the villain might have.
I come at it from a slightly different angle. My interest is in the obstacles the players might directly interact with, the things that stand in their way, and how they stand in the players way. It is good to know that the villain has a hideout, but it’s also good to know what kind of security it has.
This led me back to Blades in the Dark’s plans, as they roughly define the approach the players will take in any given score. In considering these approaches, I came up with three broad categories of obstacles that can be mixed and matched for each plan type.
Attackers – Obstacles that will literally attack the players in some way, be it hit squads, goons, or horrible demons.
Spotters – Obstacles that will perceive the players and relay that information to others. Things like sentries or guard towers.
Blockers – Obstacles that physically bar the players from their goal, be it locks, guard dogs, or high walls.
Now, lets see how these fit in with our plans:
Assault – For Assault, our most pertinent obstacles will by the Attackers. Our players aren’t going to be subtle, so they don’t have to worry about Spotters, but they may need to blow past a Blocker or two as well.
Deception / Stealth – I roll these two together because they both rely on the players not wanting to get found out. For these plans, all three obstacles are pertinent. Blockers to bar their way, Spotters to raise the alarm, and Attackers to attack if / when the alarm has been raised.
Transport – A strange plan that is beginning to grow on me, namely because if your players need to have some sort of ‘getaway’, chances are their plan is going to turn into this at some point. As with deception and stealth, all three obstacles can come into play. Blockers can be thought of as the physical constraints of the route, be it traffic, narrow roads, sudden turns, high bridges, or some other manner of physical obstacle to be traversed. Attackers are the group’s pursuers, or those interfering with their transport directly in some way. Lastly, Spotters can help the pursuers find, catch up with, and cut off the players in some way.
Occult plans are broad enough to fit into any of the three above approaches, really. The plan is more a statement of how we’re going to kick things off instead of the actual approach the party will nominally (try) to stick to.
Social plans are unique, and require unique obstacles that stand apart from the other three. I could maybe torture the framework of Attackers, Blockers and Spotters into fitting a social scene, but our objective here is to come up with tools that can be dropped in, not an all-encompassing framework. I’ll probably discuss them in more detail in a later article.
Hunting for Obstacles
Now we know what obstacles we’re looking for and how they slot into our player’s plans, we can go hunting for them in the Blades in the Dark source book.
Let’s start in the Factions, and visit our old friends the Dimmer Sisters, since they’re what the book uses as the opposition in the sample score. To review, here are the obstacles described in the sample score:
- Spirit Sentries
- Guardian Spirit
- Dimmer Sisters / Artifact
If we look in the Notable Assets for the Dimmer Sisters, we hit on some interesting things:
Notable Assets: A private electroplasmic generator, lightning barriers, and spirit containment vessels. Many spirits bound to service.
“Many spirits bound to service”, there’s our Sentries and Guardian Spirit right there. We also get a Blocker out of it (lightning barriers). The private electroplasmic generator and spirit containment vessels are more opportunities for the players than us, as maybe shutting down that generator would turn off the lightning barriers, and spirit containment vessels can be stolen, or maybe broken to cause chaos.
As for the Canals, note that they come into play at the end of the score, as part of the getaway. They serve as a Barrier of sorts, since they can be hard to get to and hard to navigate We can find interesting obstacles for the “getaway” by checking out the district sheets. In particular the “Scene” section and “Streets” section have some good suggestions for various obstacles that can be thrown in the way of a rapid escape.
Putting it Together
By this point, we’re starting to get a toolkit together. We have some obstacles gleaned from the “Assets” of the faction our party is up against, and some ideas for terrain and “getaway” obstacles pulled from the district it’s taking place in.
Other useful tables might be Devils table, that we can use to pull together a quick demon or spirit if we need to. The Strange Forces chapter is a good source on using these beings as Attackers and Spotters, as they point out the abilities and methods Devils may use to thwart players.
Lastly, the Impressions and Details tables for the Streets of Duskvol might be referenced for interesting Blockers, especially for getaways as these tables list out a number of details that would likely get in the way of a rapid chase.
Altogether, given prior knowledge of the faction your players tend on tackling and the district they plan to operate in, you should be able to prep your own toolkit of Attackers, Blockers and Spotters to be dropped into any wild plan or score your players attempt.