Category Archives: BladesInTheDark

The Elements of a Job

I’ve been running Blades in the Dark again lately, since I find its cadence of play works pretty well for me online. However, I seem to have made my life a little more complicated, as the players had a crew idea (a cadre of ex-spies who had survived the fall of their patron – some Burn Notice influence on that) that didn’t point to any particular crew type, and they ended up choosing Smugglers, because they liked the idea of moving secrets around.

This is a cool idea, and I wanted to support it, but I was not prepared. But I am hoping I’ve learned my lesson.

I have a curious take on the relationship between Crews and Jobs in Blades, because I feel like there is a genuine divide between core and non-core crew types. To my mind, Assassins, Bravos & Shadows are the core types because their jobs all rest on a similar underlying pattern of action which the default rules of Blades supports incredibly well. On the other hand, Hawkers and Smugglers (and Grifters) have different patterns that I find require a bit more work to fit.1

There is probably a cool way to articulate these as design patterns, but for simplicity, I’m going to illustrate with how I think about job creation when I’m running blades. If I am running a “core” job – that is, assault or stealth2 – then I need four things, and I benefit from a handful more.

Required

Objective – What is the target of action? (That is, the thing being stolen, the person being killed etc)

Location – Where is this happening?

Opposition – Who is resisting this? (Usually because they own the target, but maybe for other reasons)3

Initiation – The point of entry to action. This is recognizable as the missing detail in the planning and engagement rules.

Useful

Complications – These are all the things that are ready to go wrong and shift the job. The most common sort of complication is another interested party – they may not be involved when the job starts, but once the job has started, they might show up or make trouble. Always possible to just make these up on the fly, but past play usually creates a deep reservoir of opportunities to draw from.

Pressure – Why here and now? What’s going on that THIS was the time to run the job, not some better, more perfect time and place? There are all sorts of answers – time pressure, limited windows of opportunity, looming threats and so on, and this is a classic element of the genre (all of them), but this is also a bit of an oddball in Blades. The somewhat wibbly wobbly nature of time paired with the complicated issue of motivation can mean jobs are happening without any pressure to speak of. But if there IS pressure, the game supports it well with clocks.

Value – Why does this macguffin matter? Often this is very straightforward – it’s worth cash – but usually there’s more to it (and even if it’s just worth cash, it’s worth cash to someone.) Is this the means to another end? Is the value of this in the thing it will be traded for? And if it is non-monetary, where is the coin going to come from? You can be a bit hand-wavey about this, but you always want to consider it, because the job payoff is a critical part of the game economy.

Useful Vs Required

Now, to be clear, If I were to ever run a job with only the required elements, I would feel a little naked. The useful elements are the source of a lot of fun and engagement, but I don’t call them required for four reasons.

First, you can run a bare bones job without them, and for a new Blades GM, that might even be the best way to do it.

Second, the useful things can actually be a bit of a crutch – as a GM, we are sometimes pressured to draw in a complication on short notice, and the easiest move is often to bring in something external rather than make the current job more interesting. This is not always a bad move – hell, it’s often a good one – but it can contribute to the actual job feeling like the least important part of play.

Third, there is no consistency in which useful parts you’ll want to bring to bear. You might use some or all of them on any given job, but the precise combination is inconsistent and unpredictable.

Fourth, there may be no reason to add these things because they might already be implicit in the core elements. For example: if the location of the job is the Offices of the Ministry, then the potential complications are baked right in. If the core elements are rich enough, they are often enough.

But even with all those note, this remains a pretty solid model, which can expand or contract according to needs and details. It also is has some curious nuance regarding where each of these data points come from, because they can come from the players, the GM, or just be sort of ambiently known.

To illustrate: The point of initiation is always explicitly authored by the players as part of the planning and engagement phase. The other three points are a bit more flexible.

If the players want to steal something that has already been established as existing in the setting, from a known location, from a faction they have already dealt with, those are all ambiently available information. There may be almost no authorship required to get a job like this started.

I feel like this sort of ambient job is the ideal goal, though I heaven’t really examined why I feel that way. However, I also don’t run across it too often, because usually there are some unknowns that need to get answered, and which unknowns need to get answered seems both highly variable and incredibly important.

The first question is how many of these answers come from the players. For ambient answers, they might all be chosen by the players, or they might require filling in the gaps from the GM. For example, the players might really hate Frakes and want to steal something from him to strike a blow against him. The players are picking the opposition and possibly the location, but they might leave it to the GM to come up with the target, like Frakes’ latest prototype. Alternately, the players might be embracing the privileges of authority and literally just make up some or all of these answers, and let the GM fill in the details.

The more answers that come from the players, the easier things seem to go. I think this is partly because player answers are a proxy for player investment, but also because player answers are a proxy for player clarity.

Because, in contrast, the hardest point for me is when they players have a general intention, but they cannot turn it into action. An example of this is the “Well, we need money – who should we rob?” Situation. Maybe this should never come up in a well run Blades game, but I am only mortal, and have absolutely ended up in that situation, and it’s a fairly serious blank page problem.4

In the context of that list of job elements, this may be a GM prompt to offer elements that serve that purpose. That sounds a little fancy, so put more simply, if the players want to make some money but do not know what, then the GM may put forward a suggestion of something valuable that’s ripe for the picking. Of course, in that situation, the GM usually needs to come up with the other elements on the list (Opposition and Location), and that’s fine as far as it goes, but it’s definitely some amount of work. There are tricks to help with this, but the bottom line is simple – unless the players have an idea for the job, the GM needs to fill in most of the gaps.

Not a shocking realization, I know, but I lay it all out there to illustrate something essential about core jobs. While they may end up requiring work on the GM’s part, they require the least amount of work, because other jobs require more.

But that’s a topic for another day.


  1. Cultists are an even odder case, because they are not defined by the TYPE of action they pursue, but its reason and theme. If you have a crew that smuggles ghosts, the decision to go smuggler vs cult answers very different questions than what the core cycle of play looks like. As a result, Cultists might or might not be core, depending on how the crew works.
  2. And, yes, it’s true the crew types do not line up one for one with the engagement types. I’m pretty sure this is deliberate, in order to break the idea that a given crew can do only one type of job, and I applaud that. But I think some of the friction comes from the dual masters of the Blades’ emphasis on no-planning and the reader-friendly need to structure these all the same way.
  3. For Assassination, this list can collapse even further, as objective and opposition may well be the same thing, but we’ll stick with this for simplicity.
  4. Yes, aggressive player authorship is one solution to this, but I don’t like relying on it piecemeal. If that is at the heart of the game, then awesome, lean into it. But if it’s not, then it tends to be unevenly distributed, without clear practical or social rules around what’s appropriate or not.

SWOT in the Dark

Ok, nerdbusiness time.

There is a technique used in business called SWOT analysis, which is used for things like brainstorming or figuring out next steps. It’s a tool for stepping back and analyzing the reality of your business, group or the like, and hopefully gleaning insight into what to do next.

Conveniently, it is also a really handy template for adventure creation and for fleshing out your game. A PDF with the form and some directions can be downloaded here.

For purposes of illustration, I’m going to use Blades in the Dark, because the specifics of that game align particularly well with this approach, but the underlying idea applies equally well to any game where the players are a coherent group in a consistent context.

So, this technique, like so many expensive consultation driven models, is a glorified way to label four boxes. In this case, the boxes are summarized in the acronym SWOT:

4 boxes: Upper left labeled "Strengths", Upper right labeled "Weaknesses", Lower left labeled "Opportunities" and Lower right labeled "threats"

S – Strengths
W – Weaknesses
O – Opportunities
T – Threats

The practice of filling in the boxes is largely self-explanatory, but there are a few tricks that can make it a little easier and more fruitful.

Strengths

What is it that the crew does well enough that someone else might want them to do it? That is to say, while crews can do a LOT of things, this is where we focus on things that might distinguish them from other groups, both generally and specifically.

Generally, the crew type is probably a pointer towards this, but it’s also somewhat incomplete. A gang of cutters might excel at doing violence, but that is something that many groups can do. What sort of violence does this crew excel at? Do you call them when you want maximum intimidation? Do they specialize in ambushes? Are they a top notch security force?

Individual character strengths also contribute to this, but only if it can be tied clearly to the team. If one of the team members is a master of disguise, that is only a strength if the group integrates that skill into its activities, rather than is just being an adjacent activity.

It’s worth noting that the real value of this list is often found in the combinations rather than the individual elements. That is to say, if strengths include “doing violence” and “knowledge of Six Towers”, neither of those are terribly distinguishing, but in combination they suggest an obvious opportunity the next time violence is needed that depends on the details of Six Towers.

Weaknesses

On the flipside, what is the group bad at? Where are they vulnerable? What kind of jobs do they really not want to end up needing to do.

As with strengths, the crew type probably provides some pointers towards this, but it will also probably be a bit less clear cut because there’s a good chance that the players have made choices to intentionally mitigate group weaknesses. For example, even in a group of slides and lurks, there is probably one cutter who acts as the team’s muscle.

The thing is, that does not cancel the weakness, it merely mitigates it. In our prior example, this crew would still be in trouble in a rumble, even if the cutter is able to put up some resistance, so their relative inability in a fight is probably still a weakness. But if a few more members toughen up, or if the gang recruits some muscle, then they might be able to offset the weakness.

In situations like this, look for the “single point of failure” – situations where the only thing which keeps a problem at bay is one individual or resource. If something happening to that individual would expose the crew to trouble, then that’s a weakness.

Weaknesses also may cover domains of operation or information. What happens if you drop this group into high society? The Docks? A roomful of ghosts?

Sidebar – In The Middle

The ghost thing raises a key point: there are lots of things which would be bad, but are not necessarily weaknesses. Just as crews can do many things which are not necessarily their strengths, there are many things which would be bad but are not necessarily weaknesses. The key thing to identify a weakness is that this group would be worse off in this situation than a comparable group. Similarly, a strength distinguishes the group in some way.

In short, most of the things a crew can do are neither strengths nor weaknesses, but are simply facts of life.

Context absolutely plays a role in this. To use one example, crew tier is not intrinsically a weakness or a strength – it’s just a fact of life. It becomes a weakness or strength in certain situations. If a small crew has big enemies, their Tier is weakness. if a large crew is throwing their weight around on a neighborhood level, their tier is probably a strength. But for a crew operating largely around its own weight class, it’s just the way things are.

Opportunities

Opportunities are things the crew could do but haven’t yet, for one reason or another. The reason might be as dull as “haven’t gotten around to it yet” or as challenging as “if only we could get past that dragon”.

Just as the crew type provides the first pointers for strengths, the crew sheet is the first place to look for opportunities. Right off the bat, claims are something of a laundry list of opportunities for the crew. Any adjacent claim is potentially an opportunity, with the main limiter being how well or poorly it’s been fleshed out.

Faction relationships also

Note that while opportunities can be very discrete (as in the case of claims) they can also be a little bit general (as may be the case with factions) in a “there is an opportunity there but we don’t know what it is yet.” An opportunity for an opportunity is still an opportunity.

One other useful thing to look at is the intersection between opportunities and strengths, and specifically ask whether the group has the opportunity to develop new strengths.

Threats

Where weaknesses helped us understand where the crew might be vulnerable, threats help us understand who might exploit those weaknesses or otherwise do harm to the crew.

It’s important to note that while enemies may be threats, not every threat is an enemy. While an enemy might consciously choose to exploit a weakness (if they know about it), there are other forces that will exert pressure on a weakness in an utterly indifferent manner. That is, if the crew is dependent on a single source for their goods, that’s a weakness. Even if none of their enemies know about this source, then that source is still vulnerable to other forces – his enemies, sure, but also the vagaries of day to day life. If your source is Iruvian and the Ministry starts rounding up Iruvians, that is a threat to the crew even though it’s not directed at the crew at all.

None of which is to say enemies shouldn’t be tracked here. Any faction with a negative relationship with the crew probably deserves a mention in this box. Even if they’re not actively engaging the crew at the moment, they certainly won’t pass up an opportunity if the situation arises.

Using the tool

Obviously, the act of using SWOT analysis is as simple as filling out the form, but there are better and worse ways to go about it. Critically, this benefits most strongly from being a shared exercise between players and GM, because getting EVERYONE’s answers to these question is incredibly informative, especially on the subject of opportunities and threats.

Opportunities in particular are an area where the GM really wants to know how the players see things, because if they players don’t see opportunities, then the game is likely to stall. Having an exercise like this where the group contribute their answer to these questions and express opinions on this is a much healthier way to flesh this out than to have the GM just present a buffet of things that she finds interesting.

Some GMs might feel a little bit of resistance to being equally transparent about threats for fear of spoiling surprises or telegraphing their next move to the players. This can be a fair concern, depending on the specifics of the table, but in that case the concern is easily mitigated by fact that there is no need to get to specific about how the threats might manifest. The table can have an open discussion about the fact that the crew’s hq is vulnerable without the GM needing to say “and this faction is going to exploit that”. If anything, getting buy in to the existence of the threat means players will be more strongly invested if it is brought to bear.

A Few More Tricks

  • As the GM, if you are looking for ideas for your game, take a look at any group or faction connected to the crew (for good or ill) and do a SWOT analysis on them. I promise that after one or two of them
  • Almost anything in the threat box can be a clock. Hell, feel free to put clocks IN the threat box.
Same diagram as above (4 boxes: Upper left labeled "Strengths", Upper right labeled "Weaknesses", Lower left labeled "Opportunities" and Lower right labeled "threats") but with Strengths and weaknesses labeled as internal, and opportunities and threats labeled as external.
  • If it is not obvious what category something should fall into, use the following rule of thumb: Strengths and weaknesses are internal to the crew. They are things which are part of their nature, and (to at least some extent) under their control. Opportunities and threats are external to the crew, and are parts of the environment that the crew operates in, and are things to be responded to, but are not under the crews control.

Clockblockers

Since I’m talking about clocks anyway, I realized it’s worth mentioning one more bit of notation I was considering for my own game – how to block a clock (and, critically, how to indicate that a clock is blocked). The trick is simple enough: put an asterisk in a given wedge to note the requirement to fill that wedge. So, for example the clock to kill a werewolf might be:

Simple as that. Since I like to complicate things, I might end up coming up with specific icons to fill in for the asterisk if there are consistent types of barriers. This model occurred to me when I was thinking about how I would do some Ars Magica style spell research where I would want the research process to demand some sort of action (because the asterisk is, ultimately, a course of action) and it struck me it’s just as applicable to a wide variety of situations.

Anyway, very small hack, but I share is in case it’s of any use.

Stress is Best

Ok, let’s talk about Stress in Blades in the Dark.

This is an amazing mechanic – metamechanic even – that is easy to overlook. For all that it seems faily simple, it’s one of those things that really jumps out at you when you start looking at making hacks for Blades, and you find yourself wondering “Can I use stress to model THING?” and discover that the answer is “Yes. Yes you can.”

For the unfamiliar, BitD characters have a certain amount of stress, represented by a (mostly) fixed length track reminiscent of a Fate stress track, or the wound tracks from any number of games.1 Players can mark off stress for some effects like flashbacks or die bonuses (2 to push oneself for effect, 1 to assist an ally – very simple and nicely teamwork encouraging) but the real meat of the system comes up when it’s used for resistance rolls and how it’s recovered.

This is not going to come as a surprise to anyone who has played much Blades in the Dark, but it is not necessarily obvious when you read the rules or even if you just play it ones. Resistance rolls are one of the most powerful levers in the system – maybe the most powerful. They work as follows:

  1. Something bad happens to your character as a consequence of your actions.
  2. You do not want that thing to happen as presented, so you choose to resist.
  3. The thing does not happen. It may be cancelled, changed or mitigated.2
  4. Dice are rolled and a cost of 0-5 stress is extracted. There are dire consequences if you don’t have enough stress.

Which is to say, guaranteed success, but unknown cost, though the cost is roughly predictable. It starts at 6, then you subtract the highest of 1-4+ dice from that. The player doesn’t know for sure what they’ll be rolling until the GM calls for it, but in a lot of circumstances you can guess, since the categories are largely Physical, Deception or Social, with weirdness only when it’s not in that space.

This is a wonderful mechanic on a few levels, so lets pull it apart.

First, this is possibly the purest expression of “Hit Points as Pacing Mechanism” that you could practically implement. The stress track defers consequences, so it extends the amount of time a character can stay on their feet and in play. But since it does not couch it as “damage” you don’t get the (now familiar) complaints that pop up if it were to actually frame social conflicts as “combat”.3

Second, it has a degree of uncertainty, but also has the possibility of a “good” outcome. There is always the possibility of rolling a 6 on your resistance roll and paying no cost at all. If that was not there, then there would be a ratcheting inevitability that would suck away that potential thrill of victory.

Third, the level of risk is very knowable. When you look at your stress track and you know how many boxes you have left, you can make an educated guess at your odds. If you have 4 boxes left and are going to roll 3 dice? You’re probably going to be fine. But if you’re not? That feels fair. You are not getting blindsided by something being secretly harder than you expected.

Fourth, it introduces a mechanical point for the player to say “no”. This is kind of tangential enough to maybe merit it’s own post someday, but that invitation is a WONDERFUL addition to GM/Player interaction.

Fifth, it let’s the GM push HARD, because the players have the ability to pull it back. How well this works in practice has a lot to do with how much the GM respects resistance rolls, but it’s potentially very powerful4.

Sixth and most relevant to this discussion, the use of stress for this purpose is a wonderful bit of sleight of hand because it frames stress in an agnostic manner. The terminology and presentation5 of stress is like it’s a real-in-the-gameworld thing even though it’s absolutely a meta-currency. The game would function just as well if the currency was “Darkness Points” or “Drama” or whatever, but not calling it that allows people to handle it like they do things like hit points – by just accepting it and moving on. Never underestimate the power of not picking a fight you don’t need to.

Seventh, it’s like saving throws that don’t suck.

So, resistance rolls alone would be a very robust use of currency, but there’s actually a whole engine here, which also includes how you regain the currency. Rather than resetting based on time or triggers, it is restored with explicit action6 (pursuing your vice) and even that has a little bit of risk (it is possible to overindulge). That risk is not huge, but it loads the choice to recover with some necessary thought when you have 5 stress to clear, and you’re worried about rolling a 6. (In case it’s not obvious, this is a wonderful solution to the 5 minute dungeon problem, which is a shame because Blades doesn’t have that problem.)

So, this is all great for Blades, but why am i so excited about this in a general sense?

Because this engine is covered in knobs.

Consider that this cycle of stress use and recovery includes the following things:

  • Spending stress to do ARBITRARY SET OF THINGS.
  • Spending stress to Resist an ARBITRARY SET OF THINGS with SOME RISKS
  • Recovering stress by doing an ARBITRARY SET OF THINGS with SOME RISKS

Almost every game with some sort of currency does the first bullet, but tend to be a bit light on the others. And that’s fine, because the real trick is that every place where I wrote ARBITRARY SET OF THINGS or SOME RISKS?

Those are the things your game is about.

Like, not in some deep metaphorical way, but in the very straightforward “these are the actions you will pursue and the consequences you will face”. And those things, in turn, determine what the currency is.

That may seem circular, but let me illustrate. Stress works well for Blades because it’s a kind of unpleasant setting. Things are under high stress, and the consequences of things going bad are bad for mind and body, but are largely internal to the characters. After all, the main consequence of stressing out is taking on some amount of trauma, a change to the internal landscape.

Consider the very small change where we called stress “luck” and changed almost nothing else. The game would still play about the same way – you could press your luck, and your luck might run out. In that game, I suspect the consequences of your luck running out would be external – loss of resources, harm to the setting and so on. What appears to just be a change in terminology and tone becomes as change in rules because there is an explicit place to do it.

This is why it is so easy to think of other things stress might be (Reputation! Resources! Divine Favor! Popularity! Mana!) and then very naturally fill in what that means by changing the variables (the “ARBITRARY SET OF THINGS”) rather than the formula.

Combine that with the track-style presentation (which makes the whole thing friendlier to a category of players AND makes the use of currency feel more explicit and constrained) and you have a really powerful tool that is not hard to point in new directions. And, hell, while the specific details are tied to the BITD dice system? The model could be extracted further into any system you like. Hell, I could do it with D&D. I couldn’t sell it, but I could totally do it.


  1. Though really, it’s a clock. I mean, clocks and tracks? Same thing. Just different psychology of presentation. ↩︎
  2. This is probably the single most powerful knob in the game (and the game knows this) and it has very little guidance around it. Exactly how much resistance helps in a given situation is a decision that the GM has very broad leeway over, and whether resistance means “This, but not as bad” or “No, that’s not an interesting outcome” is entirely the GM’s decision. ↩︎
  3. Some folks are fine with that abstraction, but the people who hate it HATE IT A LOT. ↩︎
  4. Ironically, if the GM pushes hard before and after the resistance roll (that is, only minimally reduces consequences) then that discourages hard pushes. Player will be more careful and risk averse. If, on the other hand, the GM pushes hard, but then takes a resistance roll as a player statement to step back from the line, then you can get some pretty high octane, high trust play going. And just for completeness, if the GM doesn’t push too hard, but is also conservative with resistance rolls, there’s no harm save wasted opportunity. Weak push/strong resistances is a weird combination but could work well for a game where moment to moment success is a given, but the real attention is on the big issues that underly things (that is, the consequences of blowing out stress). ↩︎
  5. Also, by making it a track rather than some other counter (like tokens) it feels like “loss” rather than “spend”. This may seem like a trivial difference, but the psychology is pretty big. For an easy illustration, try playing Blades with tokens for stress sometime. The entire feel changes, and specifically tilts towards the non-resistance uses because those are more “spendy”. ↩︎
  6. Hat tip to The Shadow of Yesterday which laid the groundwork for this (and many other amazing mechanics). ↩︎

Clockery

I love clocks in Blades in the Dark, and have written about that before. What’s curious is that Apocalypse World has clocks, as do other PBTA games, so I’d encountered the idea previously, but it had never really grabbed me. I hadn’t thought about this much, figuring it was just part of the general Blades awesomeness, but it jumped out at me as I started prepping for an Urban Shadows game I’m running.

So, Urban Shadows has a pretty neat campaign planning trick called Threats and Storms. There are some guidelines for types of threats and what they do, but structurally, the threats have a 6 step plan that starts with a promise of trouble and culminates in trouble, and the threat attempts to advance the plan, moving through the steps. Tie a couple of these threats together and you’ve got a Storm, and you’re ready to go.

This is a pretty good model. Good enough that I want to fiddle with it, but that’s another post. But there is one element of it I did not like at all, and that is the physical presentation of it, and it illuminated something about clocks to me.

See, Urban Shadows uses Clocks to illustrate this idea, and specifically it uses the Apocalypse World style clocks of 3 quarters followed by 3 twelfths1.

It then maps each step of the plan to a wedge of the clock, which is simply more information than the clock can hold, so it required secondary notation, in a style like this from the Threats sheet.

Urban Shadows countdown clock sheet excerpt

Now, this is not broken. It can work. But to me, it’s like watching someone drive a nail with a wrench. It’s a mismatch of tools – I would expect the construct that I’m using to track these things to be able to contain them.

As an example, Monster of the Week has a similar model of threats called “Arcs” – six step plans leading to badness – but it lays it out in a tabular format, with falling darkness as its framing metaphor. This does not look as cool as the clock, but it is rather mor functional. And, in fact, when I ended up writing my threats (by hand), I used a worksheet rather more like MOTW, because it gave me enough room to think as I wrote, rather than focus on squeezing things in.

An arc example from Monster of the Week

Doing that, gave me an insight into what I like about BitD clocks, which I can illustrate with these two images

I am not holding this up to say the Urban Shadows clock is bad, rather to highlight how they’re used. The US clock is information-dense, with triggers and information at every step along the way. The Blades clock is single purpose – it has one consequence, and shows progress towards it (there are tools to make them more complex, but this is the default).

For what I use clocks for (which is a BIG qualifier), I really enjoy the clarity and focus that a unitasker provides. It makes it useful for communicating to the rest of the tables (something that’s trickier with a keyed clock) and it allows me to go immediately from need to implementation without needing to stop and fill in the interstitial spaces.

There is also a practical element of ease and flexibility – blades clocks are easier for me to draw, especially with different values2. This is far from insurmountable – we’re talking the difference in drawing a few extra lines – but when I whip out a sharpie at the table, it matters to me.

So that’s why I like BitD clocks so much: they’re flexible unitaskers, and that aligns with my needs.

But, importantly, this is not the fault of the tool. The 3-and-3 clock is a great model if you want to have an explicit upshift or escalation. When I use a clock like that, I would not want to add a note or progression for every wedge – rather I would just want to explicitly note what happens when the escalation happens, since that’s the explosion, the limit break, the point when things go from bad to worse. That’s a great moment, and while that’s a little more work on my part, coming up with a second data point is a lot easier than coming up with 6 of them.

Curiously, this also calls out why I like using tracks3  and trigger tables rather than clocks in certain situations. When I do want to have more context for the clock’s wedges or I want to do something weird with the progression through the clock, a track has the explicit advantage of giving more room to write. Small thing, but kind of important to me.

  1. Some people don’t like that style of clock, but I actually dig it for its purposes. It’s ultimately just a 6 wedge clock, but it’s got an implicit flip over from yellow zone to red zone when you get to the last quarter. That transition is a neat piece of information implicit in the layout. ↩︎
  2. Though, aesthetically, the AW/US clocks tend to look cooler in printed form, and so they work better on worksheets and prepared material. That’s a non-trivial benefit, especially for handout-heavy games, like many PBTA games. The value of cool should not be underestimated. ↩︎
  3. That is, a series of boxes rather than a circle. ↩︎

Running Jobs in Blades in the Dark

Bigass diagram of nodes. Sorry, it's really ahed to describe. :(

When I first started running Blades in the Dark, I was enamored by the ease of preparation. Very little player planning, dice driven action snowballs, just lots of great stuff.

But by the time I ran my third session, I was starting to notice something. As a GM, there was starting to be a bit of same-ness to the jobs, specifically the jobs of the same type.

That is, it was very easy to spontaneously improvise the first few stealthy infiltrations, but after a while it started to feel a little bit forced. There was a temptation to skip to the end, and a risk of “ok, now for ANOTHER sneak roll”, and I wanted to steer clear of that. Specifically, when I caught myself narrating a series of rooms, I felt like I had slipped a gear.

I’m sure there are other solutions, but for me it meant a bit more planning. Not a LOT more planning – I have no desire to slow down the game, nor to thrust canned encounters on my crew – but enough to force myself out of comfortable patterns and make me think about what makes this job different than other jobs.

For this, I turn to my old friend, the node map.1 I start from the two points I have: The point of entry and the score. The players provide me the essentials of both of these, so I just need to layer on top of it. For the point of entry, I need to provide a little bit of context: What kind of place is being entered and what’s the outside like? I don’t need a lot of detail, but I need enough that I am ready for any result on the engagement roll. Practically, this means I need to think of something that can go poorly and something that can go well, as well as the middle of the road result2.

I also think about the payoff. If I were to just skip past all the infiltration and get to the point where they’re cracking the safe or getting the idol off the mantle, what does that scene look like. This is usually the easiest creative exercise, and it’s mostly a matter of coming up with a threat or challenge to drive the scene. I apply similar thinking to the engagement roll, only reversed – how does the framing differ if things are going poorly or very well? Will there be extra guards? Will the princess be in another castle? Will the macguffin be left lying in plain site since no one even suspects trouble?

So, now I’ve got two nodes, but I explicitly don’t connect them yet. Also, there’s an instinct to think that I am now looking at the beginning and end of a sequence, but resist that. It might be true, but I also might be looking at the beginning and middle of a sequence, or even just the first two steps.

So, rather than build a map, now is the time to think of a few more nodes. My target number is three, but you do you.

I don’t particularly restrict what nodes are. They might be rooms, they might be NPCs, they might be events or they might be something else. Practically, they just need to be something that could drive a scene, and the details flow from that need.

Coming up with nodes is a creative exercise, which runs the risk of bogging things down, so my process is to run through a quick checklist and see what it shakes loose. My personal checklist is:

  • Is there a visual for a scene that I can see in my head that I want to capture?3
  • Which crewmember is least well suited to this job? Can I engage them? What can I do to balance spotlight?
  • Does anyone have outstanding trouble (NPCs in particular) that I could use bring in?
  • Did the final payoff node suggest to me any logical barriers, gates or thresholds?
  • What would play to the crew’s strength to reinforce their awesome?
  • What would reveal the crew’s weakness and force them to scramble?
  • What is going to happen if the shit hits the fan?

Running through that is usually enough for me to shake loose a trio or more ideas (though if I’m being honest, I often shoot for four ideas, since the “when the shit hits the fan” one is necessary in design but optional in play). I don’t want to throw too much detail at these things, but I like to note the risks and opportunities in each node, and that tends to give me enough to roll with (though it does run the risk of not having much “middle”).

So, I quickly add those three nodes to my notes. I still haven’t drawn any connections between them, but that is the next step. Ideally, I don’t need to connect any of them (more on that in a second), but if it seems like two of them should be connected by story logic (if, for example, the core needs to pass through the guardhouse to get to the treasure room) then this is when I connect them. Beyond those, I keep want to keep the connections loose, so that these elements can be brought to bear in alignment with the events of play4.

At this point I’m ready to go. I have a set of tableaux to be played through, and it’s just a matter of connecting them according to player actions. However, if I have a little more time, I like to add one more layer in the form of transitions.

So, if I actually drew this out as a map, I would be treating each connecting line as a transition, and I’d attach something to it (generally either some sort of choice or a bit of mechanical engagement, like a roll). Story wise, this translates into simple things that don’t merit a whole scene, like a locked door, a branching path, or a guard to be snuck past with no particular fanfare. Since I’m not mapping out connections, I don’t worry too much about choices (since they’ll shake out organically) but I do want to add a little bit of mechanical teeth to the transition between nodes – so how do I do that without explicit connections?5

The trick is that I add attachment points to the nodes, so that if I have an idea what entry (or sometimes exit) from a node should entail, and when it comes time to connect to that node, I connect to the attachment point and use that to inform the transition. It’s not perfect – sometimes circumstances will make the attachment points moot, but they’re lightweight enough (like, a bullet of fiction and a suggestion for outcomes) that it’s no great loss.

Finally, as I’m ready to go, I treat this diagram as a starting point, not a source of truth. As things come up in play or ideas come to me, I may add new nodes, change or update things, and generally keep it coherent and dynamic.6 But it means that with a single sheet of paper7 I have all the details needed to keep a job feeling fresh, with extra space for any clocks that may come up.


  1. While I am not strictly reframing jobs as 5 room dungeons, that’s not too far off from what I do. ↩︎
  2. This is not a super nuanced Way to run engagement rolls, but I am ok with it. ↩︎
  3. Confession: That usually means “Was there a cool bit in Dishonored or some other game that I want to copy?” ↩︎
  4. This is, I should cop, illusionist as hell. If you find that objectionable, then you should do all the connections now, and then run your crew through it. It’ll work fine. ↩︎
  5. Technique tip: Transitions that have rolls do one of two things. Either they force a choice (if you can get past this door, you go through to the nest node. If not, then you need to go to a different node to go around) or they function like mini-engagement rolls to frame the next node. They can do other things too, but the important thing is that the results of the roll are expressed in the subsequent node because it’s more interesting than the transition. If the transition is interesting enough to merit more than that, it should probably be a node.

    Bonus Tip: This also 100% works for D&D. ↩︎
  6. Again, illusionist as hell. Feel free to plan this stuff out if you want. ↩︎
  7. Or, more often, an iPad. The ability to reposition things electronically is kind of awesome. ↩︎

Favors in the Dark

As I work on the Grifters writeup, I occasionally get sidetracked into a pair of other gang playbooks that mostly exist in my head, one for artists, the other for revolutionaries. Both of those other playbacks really appeal to me as things to play, but they suffer from one key disconnect with Blades – the question of how to get paid.

This is not an insurmountable challenge. Revolutionaries can steal from The Man. Artists can make sales. But for me, that ends up feeling a little bit wrong. For most crews, making money is the underlying focus of activity, but for crews with a different motive (which may also include cults) the centrality of money to the system can end up hurting the feel of things.

Most specifically, it discourages crews from making a ruckus. That is, if you have a crew of rabble rousers and you want to do something dramatic and awesome but not-necessarily profitable, the system will steer you away from that. I don’t fault the design for that – it’s a harsh setting, and it supports an idea that idealists still need to eat. I genuinely get that, but sometimes the rejection of the idea that everything comes down to cash is the point.

So, to that end I have a very simple fix that has room to be a slightly more complicated fix for those who are so inclined, and that solution is favors.

Favors are another form of currency which can be earned as part of a job (or by other means) and are largely interchangeable with coin. When coin could be spent, favors can be spent instead (with caveats). Effectively, favors are a parallel currency, with only a few special rules:

  • Favors may not be used to increase the tier of your crew. That takes real money.
  • When a favor is used, an NPC must be named as the person providing the favor. No further detail is required, and the NPC may be an existing one or a new one, so long as it makes sense. There is no explicit mechanical hook to this, but it’s potentially useful information.
  • Favors can be gained by the crew or by individual members, and can be given by members to the crew, but once they go to the crew, that’s where they stay. (They’re still usable, so no biggee, this is just to prevent weird favor laundering.)
  • The Crew may only hold a maximum number of favors equal to the number of crew members. Any extras must be used immediately (by the end of the current/next downtime) or go to waste.
  • An individual crewmember may hold a number of favors equal to their Consort.
  • A favor may be spend by a player to justify a scene with an NPC. It gives no real authority beyond framing who the scene is with – where it happens and how well it’s received is on the NPC – but it gets the door open.[1]

Optional Rules

Crew Upgrade: Ironclad Reputation – Double the crew’s capacity to hold favors.

Crew Upgrade: Sterling Reputation – Triple the crew’s capacity to hold favors. Requires and replaces Ironclad reputation.

Slide Special Ability: Everybody’s Friend – Once per downtime, you can spend a downtime action working your network, doing favors and earning favors. Make a Consort roll. 1-3 Nothing happens, 4-5 Earn 1 favor, 6 Earn 2 Favors, Crit Earn 3.

Spider Special Ability: Favor Broker – Once per downtime, you may spend a favor to give another crewmember an additional downtime action. Doing so does not expend the favor.

Whisper Special Ability: Everything Bargains – Your favors extend to and from ghosts, demons and almost anything else. When you name an NPC or justify a scene, you are not bound to mere humanity.

Advance Rules: Named Favors

If one REALLY wants to, it is entirely possible to associate favors with NPCs when they’re handed out. This means that rather than just use generic favors, each favor is tied to a named NPC, and get handed out like “Black Andrea:2” or “The Ink Rakes:1” meaning Black Andrea owes me two favors and the Ink Rakes owe me 1.

This is a pretty compelling thought. It constrains the spending of favors somewhat (because the logic of who “owns” the favor influences how it’s used) but it makes the named NPCs that much more important and engageable. It also makes the favors a bot more concrete – there is no guarantee you’ll get a favor again after you spend it, so you need to think a little bit about whether it’s worth it to burn a valuable favor (because one other upshot of this is that some favors definitely ARE more valuable than others). And if an NPC owes you a lot of favors, you might be a little more invested in their well being.

However, this also calls for a level of bookkeeping that is kind of at odds with Blades in general. This is inventory management, and we don’t go for that kind of stuff here. So while I’ll share a few more bullets on how you handle this, I’m going to say that all in all I recommend against it, but if you really like the idea, then go for it.

So, that said, the tweaks you’ll make:

  • Maximum amounts are unchanged. The reduced flexibility of named favors is offset by their increased applicability and potential potency.
  • In addition to other uses, named favors can be spent for actual favors within the wheelhouse of the favor target. Usually in the form of “do this” or “don’t do this”. This is a favor, not authority, so how far someone will go depends a lot on how close to their comfort zone they are. When in doubt, if the character asks for this use of the favor and are declined (GM’s call), that does not expend the favor.

Advance Rule: Taking on Debt

Suppose your character really needs a favor but has none. You have the option of owing someone a favor in order to gain the benefit of a favor. This will usually happen during downtime, but it could come up in play or as a result of a devil’s bargain.

When taking on a debt, the character immediately gains and spends the favor (including naming the NPC) for whatever they needed to accomplish. Then then mark a “-“ wherever they track favors to note the debt.

  • Debt may be accrued by the character or the Crew. Any member of the crew may accrue debt on the Crew’s behalf.
  • Each “-“ occupies a slot of favor capacity, so the character or crew can hold one less favor for each debt they carry.
  • At any point, an NPC may attempt to call in the marker and ask the character or crew to do something. The NPC may be the one named, or it may be someone else. If the characters or crew do it, then the debt is cleared.
  • If they choose NOT to do it, the debt increases (becoming two minuses and so on). This means it occupies more favor capacity, and if this pushes over capacity, favors are lost.
  • The NPC will eventually return and ask another favor, and saying yes will clear the books (and saying no will deepen the debt) but they will probably ask for something more severe each time.
  • If turning down a favor would push a character past their favor capacity, the debt (all of it) rolls over to the crew instead (pushing out any favors they may be holding as appropriate). If turning down a favor would push the crew past their favor capacity, each point of overage is taken from crew rep. If the crew has no rep, it’s added to heat.
  • If you’re using Named Favors, then debt is also named, with all that that entails. One warning – the death of the person you owe might clear your debt, but there are no guarantees.

Anyway. This might get sidebarred into Grifters, but it’s not really a match there, so I figured I’d just share it here.

1 – (Very annoyed that my editor of choice has decided to stop auto-formatting my footnotes). So, technically this means that your crew could spend one favor for an audience with the Immortal Emperor. If this bugs you, then increase the cost of this action by the tier difference between the crew and the target. But if, like me, you hear this and think “Oh, yes, you should *definitely* do that” with an evil smile, then absolutely leave the rule as is.

Bites in the Dark

Wolf’s Head in front of the moonScott Parker shared a great post on his experience using Blades of Fate to run a Dungeon World game, and that got me thinking about probability1 which lead to all this.

I ended up talking a bit about my love of the Blades in the Dark dice pools on twitter, and specifically how well it combines with Don’t Rest Your Head. For the unfamiliar, DRYH uses different color dice to represent different ideas (like exhaustion, discipline or Madness), and when you roll a set of dice, the color of the die you use influences the outcome, both narratively and mechanically.

As with most die pool systems, it meshes very easily with BITD’s model of success and partial success, and I have been kicking around a few different things that could use this model. In the process, I came up with a quick add-on hack for Blades that at up several tweets, and I figured I’d gather it in one place.

And with that preamble out of the way, I present…

Bites In The Dark

(Title courtesy of @krenshar_posts)

This is a hack for playing werewolves (or something similar) in Blades In The Dark. In the absence of a lunar cycle, this idea is designed to model the kind fo fiction where the narrator talks about “the beast” in the third person while describing what it smells or does or wants. It’s an unwelcome presence that offers power but also threatens to overwhelm.

I’m agnostic regarding how someone becomes a werewolf, but once they do, there are two mechanical effects.

  1. Create a clock for that character labeled “THE BEAST” and set it to four wedges.
  2. The character receives one “moon die”. This should be of a visibly different color from their other dice. Assuming your Blades dice are black, white or silver is appropriate.

The moon die (or dice) should be rolled alongside the player’s other dice. When the player chooses which die is used for the result of the roll, and they choose a moon die, that has the following effects.

  1. Narratively, The Beast has helped drive the outcome, and that should be accounted for descriptively.
  2. Gain another moon die.
  3. Mark off a wedge of The Beast’s Clock

If the player uses multiple moon dice (such as for a critical success), then do these steps for every die used. This may exceed the size of the clock (in which case, don’t worry about marking any further) but it will increase the number of moon dice held by the character.

When the Beast’s clock fills, that means the character transforms and loses control. This effect can be resisted, but Moon Dice aren’t used on that resistance roll, and at best it will merely defer the effect until the end of the scene.

Upon transformation, the following happens:

  1. The GM takes control of the character and describes what happens. This is going to be gruesome and bad, and probably make for consequences for everyone. I strongly discourage the GM from outright attacking the rest of the crew, rather, let the Beast rampage, and let the consequences flow from that. The GM also controls when, where and in what condition the character returns, but she should be mindful of pacing this.
  2. If this happens while the crew is on a job, tally up the number of moon dice held by the character. After heat is calculated, add that much heat to the total.
  3. If this happens between jobs, treat it as if the character had run amok (See below).
  4. Clear the clock and reset the character’s moon pool to 1 die.

New Downtime Action: Run Amok

When the Beast threatens to run wild, sometimes the best solution is to let it. You take yourself someplace isolated and let the beast run wild, but the consequences of this can be dire.

Roll the character’s moon pool taking the best result (this roll won’t accrue wedge or moon dice), then consult this chart:

1-3 – Nobody important died. A few greased palms and charitable contributions should be able to smooth things over. Someone needs to spend 1 coin to cover this, and if they cannot, then take the 4-5 result.

4-5 – The Beast’s rampage is a subject of gossip, rumor and no small amount of fear. Start a clock labeled “Fear of the Beast Passes” with 4 wedges. Until it is cleared, jobs generate 1 extra heat, and indulging Vice clears one less stress. If this effect is triggered again while the clock is active, increase its wedge count by another 4.

6 – Hunters arrive to pursue the beast with steely glares and weapons of silver. The first time this happens, they are a tier II gang with a -1 relationship with the crew. The second time, the relationship drops by 1. The third time their tier increases as more hunters arrive. After that, it’s War.

6+ – One of the following happens:

One of your crew’s allies was attacked and has been infected.
One of your crew’s enemies was attacked, and has been infected.
Your worst enemy knows you are The Beast
Your closest friend/love knows you are The Beast.

After this roll and effect, clear The Beast’s clock, and return the Moon Die pool to 1.

Notes For Clarity

  • The player explicitly has the option of not using the Moon dice in a result. That choice it kind of the point.

And that is pretty much it.

Options and Variations:

There are a LOT of options for how to tweak this, mostly because there are a lot of different things being a werewolf might mean at the table, so these allow some tweaking.

Some of these options are also possible for ideas which are similar to werewolves, but thematically different. Deals with dark powers, sinister magical weapons, a personal Hyde or ripper – all of these things and more can be modeled with these rules with some changes in color, and possibly by picking slightly different options.

Magical Effects
If the player wants to do something that should be impossible, but makes sense under the auspices of the Beast (like, make an impossible jump, or track someone through a crowd by smell) they they can do so, rolling only moon dice and resolving normally. Since this guarantees that moon dice will be used, it also guarantees triggering a moon die gain.

It’s worth noting that this is potentially very powerful – allowing the “impossible” in Blades removes the one check against runaway player action (the GM not calling for a roll). It can get around tier issues and generally allows for very big results. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s something to be very aware of and in alignment on. It also should be reflected in the scope of potential consequences when the Beast gets loose.

Gentler Lycanthropy
The player is not obliged to roll moon dice, though if they do, they must roll them all. Rolling moon dice is treated as accepting a Devil’s Bargain, so they cannot be further supplements.

This slightly constrains the bonus on the rolls, and makes it much less likely that the character will lose control. That removes a fair amount of the risk from the system, but sometimes that’s appropriate. This is suitable for games where the beast is more controllable by its nature, or for ones where something else is keeping The Beast in check (for example, this rule might only be in play so long as the character is regularly taking Wolfsbane infusions, or at certain times & places). An advantage of tying this to something in the fiction is that its loss is now a viable (and toothy, ha ha) consequence.

Less Predictable Clock
Set The Beast’s clock to 8 wedges, but change the process so that when a moon die or dice are used, do the following.

  1. Incorporate the Narrative
  2. Increase the character’s moon die pool by the number of moon dice used.
  3. Roll all moon dice and take the best result. Increase The Beasts clock 1 space on a 1-3, 2 spaces on a 4-5, 3 spaces on a 6, and one additional space for each additional 6. The good news is that this roll does not trigger any additional moon die gain.

I went with 8 wedges here, assuming 2 wedges per roll, but that’s going to be unevenly distributed, and it can go much faster if the dice are unkind. The upshot of this is that the number of moon dice the character is holding will be much less predictable when they transform (so the mechanical effects are less predictable). This is also, frankly, a little bit meaner, especially since it feels more generous (8 wedges!).

Werewolf Healing
Transformation (either in play or RUnning Amok), clears any wounds the character has.

This is super kind – healing is a pain in Blades – but it’s kind of thematically appropriate.

Temporary Power
The assumption is that this state does not go away, but it’s entirely possible that after transformation occurs, that’s it. The possessing spirit flees, or the drug wears off or whatever.

In this case, transformation should have a very specific meaning or cost, something that makes it a Damoclean sword hanging over the character.

Fatal Power
The flipside of Temporary Power – once the clock fills, that’s it, you’re done. In this case, I strongly suggest that the transformation remain in the player’s control, since this is their moment of going down in a blaze of glory.

This works well with Gentler Lychanthropy, but without it you can get a great Strikeforce Morituri vibe.

Ratcheting Doom
Start the Beast’s Clock at 2 wedges higher than normal. Then, every time it’s cleared and reset, it has 1 fewer wedge. When the clock has zero wedges, that is the final transformation. There is only the Beast now.

This one will take a while to go through, but it has a certain charm for games long enough to sustain its arc. The one thing I don’t like so much is that the moon pool gets smaller with each iteration, so while it represents burnout pretty well, it’s less well suited to the idea of the beast growing stronger.

Edit: Got a great suggestion from @thedicemechanic for this that solves the problem.  Each time the clock resets, the reset moon die pool is one larger, and a wedge of the clock is filled in (rather than getting smaller). So, first time it resets to 2 moon dice, and the first wedge is filled in.  Second time it resets to 3 moon dice and the first two wedges are filled in and so on. This gets the ratcheting, but ALSO keeps the mayhem going. 

Heroic Alternatives
It’s worth noting that this also works for more heroic games. The “transformation” could just as easily be the equivalent of a Limit Break. This scratches the surface of a much bigger alternative, but if anyone is looking to do an Exalted2 or Final Fantasy hack, this option might be helpful.


  1. Specifically, the fact that a critical point about Blades of Fate is that it absolutely privileges success as a consequence of an even distribution of outcomes. This is neither a bug nor a feature so much as something to be explicitly mindful of when choosing it. If you want people to mostly be awesome but occasionally surprised by twists, it’s a good approach, but if you expect the dice to provide more complication, it’s going to seem too easy. To my mind it relies on compels to make up that gap, but the exact balance will absolutely have a component of taste to it. ↩︎
  2. In thinking about this, I realized that BLADES IN THE SUN is a fantastic ideas that I don’t have the time or energy to pursue right now. ↩︎

Narrating from Knowledge

This was an unplanned tweetstorm this morning, but it’s practical enough that it’s worth turning into a proper post.

TL;DR – when you narrate in blades, include all the information that the characters would have gotten if they’d asked all the smart questions and done all the smart research. We are playing to see what they do with that information, not to watch them flail around finding it.


When you’re running (or playing) Blades in the Dark, narration should come from a place of knowledge.

That is simple, but maybe not obvious, so let me unpack what that means.  In most games you will use descriptive narration, telling players what they see and sense. If they want further information, they can take action as characters (investigate, poking around) or ask questions as players.  This back and forth is part of how players engage a situation, and for many games this is fine.

Blades is a bit different in two ways.  First, it is very rare that the question is whether the crew will succeed, and is instead about how they will succeed (and what may happen as a result).  Second, the flashback mechanism offers entirely different ways to engage these scenes.  These differences call for a difference in approach – specifically, they reward giving more information when narrating.

So, rather than provide a purely descriptive narration, consider an informed narration – one that expands upon the description with context and information, as if the listener were well informed on the topic.  See, in Blades – on a job in particular – the assumption is that characters have done their due diligence and legwork, so when an element is introduced, the narrator can reflect that with an “as you know, Bob…”, albeit cooler.

So, for example, if my crew were to come upon a door in a classic game, I might say:

The door is imposing and conveys a clear message of “no”.  Heavy black wood, thick bronze bands and an ornate, sophisticated lock all make it cleat that this door is not interested in letting you past.

And that’s fine, so far as it goes.  They can start digging in.  But for blades, I would start with that and add something like:

The wood is treated ironwood: fireproof and hard enough to dull anything but specialized tools, imported from the south at significant expense. The lock’s a Wilson and Finch 9 tumbler job with an etheric snap back mechanism which has three keys, one held by the mark, one by his chief of security and one in the W&F offices.

Now, I’m giving two kinds of information here.  Some of this is information that could be sussed out by asking questions (or, depending on the game, maybe making knowledge rolls), and providing that without the players asking serves a couple purposes, but most critically it shows the players and their characters  a degree of respect and circumvents the possibility that they might ask the “wrong” questions.  That kind of generosity is useful in many games.

The other kind of information is contextual.  Where the wood comes from, what the status of the keys are and details about the lock are things that could not be determined within the scene, so providing them seems counterintuitive to the usual RPG model – it might even feel overly narrative or storytelling-ish.  However, it’s much less grandiose than that – it is a way to reflect the legwork that the characters did offscreen without forcing them to keep extensive notes.  Just assuming the know this stuff is both practical and respectful.

But that’s not all – this also very explicitly provides hooks for flashbacks.  As narrator, I am communicating several possible elements that might inspire players to hang a flashback off.  Now, players are creative, and they may not need these hooks, or they may ignore the hooks I offer entirely in favor of their own, and that’s fine, but by offering them I prime the pump.

Not only does this make life easier for my players, it makes life easier for me.  When I don’t have time to think up a really interesting job, or when the circumstances surrounding a job dictate that it’s probably short and simple, a few richly narrated details can unspool into a lot of very satisfying play by moving play into the flashbacks.  The job itself could be quite short, but the play experience very satisfying if enough engagement happens in the flashbacks.

If you’re looking for tips on how to do this, look to the source fiction.  Capers and espionage stories, especially movies and TV, are awash with well-informed narrators.  This might take the form of a mission briefing voiceover while the action is taking place, or it might take the form of editorial observations from the protagonist.  I’m a huge fan of Burn Notice which is a great example of the latter  type.   Find a voice and style you like, and think about how a scene would be described in that context.

Now, none of this is obligatory.  Blades runs just fine if you do it straight, so this is not something to stress about.  But it’s a powerful tool in your toolbox, and I definitely encourage trying it out.

Sidebar: All this is for players too.  If your GM doesn’t give you hooks to hang flashbacks on, then that is an invitation to create them.  This doesn’t require a full narration or story, just your own little bit of Burn Notice voiceover and you’re off to the races!