One of the things that really sets Forged in the Dark games apart from the competition is the way that the mechanics push narrative forward, sometimes whether you like it or not. Entanglements are one of the things that I had trouble wrapping my head around when I first started playing Blades in the Dark, simply because it felt as though the mechanics were hijacking the story that my friends and I had been creating together. Suddenly there was this unexpected fallout that came out of left field. Now someone wanted us to do something apart from what we’d been planning after our last score! What gives?
I get it now. It ratchets up the tension and means that you’ve got more plates spinning. You are under increasing pressure and the walls are closing in. That’s good for storytelling, especially when the game is pushing you to drive your character like a stolen car.
For Court of Blades, we are trying to encourage a slower burn and a longer overall game without sacrificing that delicious pressure. We’re looking for a crockpot rather than a pressure cooker. You’ll come out just as fall-apart tenderized, but it’ll take a while longer to stew in your own juices. Now I’m hungry…
We got our first draft of Entanglements up today, and looking over them I think that our ethos comes through pretty well. Unlike Blades in the Dark or Scum & Villainy, we’re going to be doling out entanglements based on how much Exposure a coterie acquires per errand. That is, if you only garner 0-3 Exposure while about the House’s business, you are getting the lightest of Entanglements appropriate for your level of Shame. This keeps the death-spiral from ratcheting up too fast, and gives our politic retainers all due opportunity to correct between errands. That is not to say that the levels of Shame do not get more punishing as you go on. Remember, in Ilrien it’s only three strikes until you’re out, and it won’t just be a leisurely languish in Ironhook here. The Grand City does not believe in prisons. Justice is quick, efficient, and brutal. Get three levels of Shame and the entire coterie is dismissed from House service.
Another difference between Court of Blades and its predecessors is the relative lack of emergent errands that derive from the Entanglements. Blades in the Dark had 12 Entanglements and most of them gave the option of spinning the Entanglement into another score. Standing up to rivals, evading arrest, or dealing with the Unquiet Dead, they all required your attention or else an outpouring of Rep or Coin. We’ve got 36 Entanglements in Court of Blades, but only 3 demand an Engagement roll to deal with. The Social Season mechanic of the game makes for a nail-biting game of “what can we get done before time makes fools of us all” as it is. If we piled on another errand, demanded by our Entanglement roll, it’d spin out of control fast. Especially if we got another Entanglement demanding another errand demanding another entanglement…you see where I’m going with this?
That is not to say that we’re taking it easy on our retainers.
Looking over the list, I think our Entanglements are tending toward punishing, but the reason for that is twofold. Reason the first: retainers are no less hardscrabble than scoundrels, though their coin of the realm is reputation rather than currency. We wanted to put the same pressure that Doskvol puts on the pocketbook on our retainers’ good names. Reason the second: the fallout from errands well-run should be stumbling blocks to keep runaway success from snowballing into a short game. A labyrinth with a straight path is not a well-designed one, and a parabolic ascent is not the most satisfying story in a world of byzantine politics and careful maneuvering.
Entanglements will cost you Favor. They will cost you friends. They might cost your Tier, if you are not circumspect. They might cost your fine equipment or your good name. If you are clever and you remember your obligation to the will of the House, you will suffer this with grace and continue to prove yourself a worthy weapon in the arsenal of the Esultare. Because those are the stories that last.