Monday, February 15, 2016

A Look at the Duskwall Heist Deck for Blades In The Dark

Two decks for fast creation of Heists in Blades in the Dark.

So, +John Harper makes games that I enjoy. One that he is working on right now is called Blades in the Dark. Find out about John and what he makes. Blades in the Dark has an Early Access Digital Edition available at DriveThruRPG. As a backer of the Kickstarter and a general fan of John's work, I believe that this game is worth a person's time. For me the combination of interesting setting and mechanics that support a really strong up-time / downtime cycle make even the early revisions of the game fun, interesting, and worth stealing from for other games. The game also has a nice set of rules that set stakes vs. risks that has made its way in to my own GMing, so I encourage you to investigate it and I hope you enjoy it.

I found +Andrew Shields on G+ a few years back now and after carrying on a sort of mutual nerdy correspondence over G+ we became what I'd call pretty good online buddies. Andrew has a blog where you can find out a lot about his gaming and creating for games. I play in his online games when I can, and I enjoy him as a player, a GM, and as a creator. When he told me that he was working on a Heist Deck for Blades, with John's blessing, my response was enthusiastic. The product is a triple-threat for me since I like Andrew's game and game creations, I like cards as randomizers, and I like Blades in the Dark. When Andrew told me that +miller ramos would be working on the design and layout of the cards this pretty much sewed it up for me. I was going to buy one.

The response to the release of the Heist Deck over on in the G+ Blades in the Dark community disappointed me somewhat, so I hope that this closer look at the product will give people a little more info to go on than can be found at the Game Crafter page. Andrew has done a pretty good job of discussing how this thing works conceptually, so go check that out because I think he's the best ambassador for this thing. I'm already a fan, so I'm hoping to take an approach that is oriented on the specific qualities of the thing. Here goes!

Q: How many decks? A: TWO decks! (Three sir!)

The "Heist Deck" is really two decks. Its 90 cards split into a 50 card "red" deck of obstacles and dangers, as well as 40 cards "blue / yellow" that have people on the blue side, and goals or treasures on the yellow side. The tuck box comes wrapped in cellophane, and has a little bit of extra room with the cards inside it that might fit something nice and small like a pocketmod notebook or the like. My guess is that the box would hold like 100 or 120 cards. The cards and the tuck box seem to be of the same card stock and have a similar finish. I like this finish more than some other finishes I've seen for RPG products its smooth, and not "chalky" feeling. Its not air cushioning finish, but its not too glossy or too matte and I think it will probably withstand your fingerprints and shuffling pretty well. Some cards I've bought for games don't, and almost instantly form finger prints. Maybe thats not a problem for everyone.

The faces of the cards have nice touches that deliberately echo the Blades trade dress, with the ragged slash edging, that font, and the dagger icons. The color-coding idea seems sharp, particularly with red as obstacles and yellow as treasure. People with limited color vision might offer a different opinion? I have no experience or education involving that kind of thing.

Here you can see how the Personalities (Blue deck) has Objectives (Gold deck) on the flip side.

The descriptions and suggestions on these cards are rich, and evoke the haunted setting of Duskwall in a way that nestles well within the setting and rules document as its been released. Suggestions on the Obstacles cards have ways of scaling the difficulty up or down, and they have lots of interesting leading questions to draw ideas out of you, or help you make decisions about the heist. Since Blades revolves around a sort of central "up time" for heists and "down time" for recuperating, personal projects, getting into trouble...getting another heist together quickly using this deck is going to be fairly simple with a quick shuffle and deal from the decks. If you're like me you may want more time to think these through and could do a few draws between games to give you ideas or ready-made heists to keep in a stack.

The Obstacles deck has a flip side with suggestions on how to scale the problem up or down.

The blue cards have a nicely sketched out NPC on them. This includes quick labels, some good info on the NPC, what kind of reputation they might have, how they get things done, and possibly locations they might be associated with. Added benefit to this instant NPC is that once you've used them, they can become a regular part of your game...or not as you like. A fast heist draw would have two people, a patron and a target, about three obstacles, and one treasure / objective. Then you ponder how they all connect.

The more use this deck sees, the more likely it is that you're going to "use up" some of these or have repeat people. Thats good for your game. With any randomizer that you deplete over time, its going to be up to you to maybe repopulate the spent results with new results. My suggestion would be to make a table or notes in your GM notebook that is linked to the card you wish to ignore. When that card comes back up, just re-draw, or go to your clever replacement table / notes.

The suggested 6 card spread with a Patron, a Target, an Objective & three Obstacles.

Obviously I'm invested in this product. Its square in my game fan wheel house. It provides a big set of mix-able ideas into a format that can be easily shuffled, and have lots of evocative, quickly useable, and useful game content on them. Even really great random tables don't usually have this level of tinder for starting your imagination fires. If you want to check it out, but you don't want to go all in at the Game Crafter's price you can check out the smaller Print and Play PDF version on the DriveThruRPG website. Even the preview there can give you some more info to investigate that might help you make a decision. There's even the README.PDF that works as a sort of instruction manual / thesis for this thing.

My advice is to go investigate the links, think about the ways you could use this in your games, and count your coin to decide if this is going to work for your wallet. Personal experience tells me that the shipping time was a bit of a wait for getting it from where it was to central Kentucky in the US. I was not happy about that wait, but I took the cheapest shipping option I could get. Still, I'm happy with this product and have already used it to make a heist. I can see using it to build "missions" for my own games even though I have none currently set in Duskwall. Also, my allegiances to Andrew and the game  Blades in the Dark has already been clearly stated I think. Get out there and take a look, I hope you find that this thing is for you!

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