Planning & engagement
Your crew spends time planning each score. They huddle around a flickering lantern in their lair, looking at scrawled maps, whispering plots and schemes, bickering about the best approach, lamenting the dangers ahead, and lusting after stacks of coin.
But you, the players, don't have to do the nitty-gritty planning. The characters take care of that, off-screen. All you have to do is choose what type of plan the characters have already made. There's no need to sweat all the little details and try to cover every eventuality ahead of time, because the engagement roll (detailed in the next section) ultimately determines how much trouble you're in when the plan is put in motion. No plan is ever perfect. You can't account for everything. This system assumes that there's always some unknown factors and trouble—major or minor—in every operation; you just have to make the best of it.
There are six different plans, each with a missing detail you need to provide (see the list below). To "plan an operation," simply choose the plan and supply the detail. Then the GM will cut to the action as the first moments of the operation unfold.
- Assault - Do violence to a target. Detail: The point of attack.
- Deception - Lure, trick, or manipulate. Detail: The method of deception.
- Stealth - Trespass unseen. Detail: The point of infiltration.
- Occult - Engage a supernatural power. Detail: The arcane method.
- Social - Negotiate, bargain, or persuade. Detail: The social connection.
- Transport - Carry cargo or people through danger. Detail: The route and means.
When you choose a plan, you provide a missing detail, like the point of attack, social connection, etc. If you don't know the detail, you can gather information in some way to discover it.
After the plan and detail are in place, each player chooses their character's load. This indicates how much stuff they're carrying on the operation. They don't have to select individual items—just the maximum amount they'll have access to during the action.
Once the players choose a plan and provide its detail, the GM cuts to the action—describing the scene as the crew starts the operation and encounters their first obstacle. But how is this established? The way the GM describes the starting situation can have a huge impact on how simple or troublesome the operation turns out to be. Rather than expecting the GM to simply "get it right" each time, we use a dice roll instead. This is the engagement roll.
The engagement roll is a fortune roll, starting with 1d for sheer luck. Modify the dice pool for any major advantages or disadvantages that apply.
Major Advantages / Disadvantages
- Is this operation particularly bold or daring? Take +1d. Is this operation overly complex or contingent on many factors? Take -1d.
- Does the plan's detail expose a vulnerability of the target or hit them where they're weakest? Take +1d. Is the target strongest against this approach, or do they have particular defenses or special preparations? Take -1d.
- Can any of your friends or contacts provide aid or insight for this operation? Take +1d. Are any enemies or rivals interfering in the operation? Take -1d.
- Are there any other elements that you want to consider? Maybe a lower-Tier target will give you +1d. Maybe a higher-Tier target will give you -1d. Maybe there's a situation in the district that makes the operation more or less tricky.
The engagement roll assumes that the PCs are approaching the target as intelligently as they can, given the plan and detail they provided, so we don't need to play out tentative probing maneuvers, special precautions, or other ponderous non-action. The engagement roll covers all of that. The PCs are already in action, facing the first obstacle—up on the rooftop, picking the lock on the window; kicking down the door of the rival gang's lair; maneuvering to speak with a Lord at the masquerade party; etc.
Don't make the engagement roll and then describe the PCs approaching the target. It's the approach that the engagement roll resolves. Cut to the action that results because of that initial approach—to the first serious obstacle in their path.
⏣ 1d for sheer luck.
⊕ +1d for each Major Advantage.
⊖ -1d for each Major Disadvantage.
- Critical: Exceptional result. You've already overcome the first obstacle and you're in a controlled position for what's next.
- 6: Good result. You're in a controlled position when the action starts.
- 4/5: Mixed result. You're in a risky position when the action starts.
- 1-3: Bad result. You're in a desperate position when the action starts.
The first obstacles at the witches' house are their cunning locks and magical traps. The engagement roll puts us on the roof outside a window, as the PCs attempt to silently and carefully break into the attic.
The PCs have kicked down the door and swarmed into the front room of the gang's lair, weapons flashing, into the swirl of the melee with the first guards.
The PCs have socialized politely at the party, maneuvering into position to have a private word with a powerful Lord. As a group of young nobles leave his side, the PCs step up and engage him in conversation.
If the players want to include a special preparation or clever setup, they can do so with flashbacks during the score. This takes some getting used to. Players may balk at first, worried that you're skipping over important things that they want to do. But jumping straight into the action of the score is much more effective once you get used to it. When they see the situation they're in, their "planning" in flashbacks will be focused and useful, rather than merely speculations on circumstances and events that might not even happen.
The outcome of the engagement roll determines the position for the PCs' initial actions when we cut to the score in progress. A 1-3 means a desperate position. A 4/5 is a risky position. A 6 yields a controlled position. And a critical carries the action beyond the initial obstacle, deeper into the action of the score.
No matter how low-Tier or outmatched you are, a desperate position is the worst thing that can result from the plan + detail + engagement process. It's designed this way so the planning process matters, but it doesn't call for lots of optimization or nitpicking. Even if you're reckless and just dive in and take your chances, you can't get too badly burned. Plus, you might even want those desperate rolls to generate more xp for the PCs, which helps to bootstrap starting characters into advancement.
When you describe the situation after the roll, use the details of the target to paint a picture of the PCs' position. How might the strange, occult gang present a desperate position for burglars? How might the violent and ruthless butchers present a risky threat to assaulting thugs? How might the vain and pompous Lord present a controlled opportunity for a manipulative scoundrel? Use this opportunity to show how the PCs' enemies are dangerous and capable—don't characterize a bad engagement roll as a failure by the PCs, or they won't trust the technique in the future. Sure, things are starting out desperate here against the creepy occultists, but you're just the type of characters who are daring enough to take them on. Let's get to it.
How long does it last?
The engagement roll determines the starting position for the PCs' actions. How long does that hold? Does the situation stay desperate? No. Once the initial actions have been resolved, you follow the normal process for establishing position for the rest of the rolls during the score. The engagement roll is a quick short-hand to kick things off and get the action started—it doesn't have any impact after that.
Sometimes an operation seems to call for a couple of plans linked together. A common scenario is a team that wants a two-pronged approach. "You create a diversion at the tavern, and when they send thugs over there, we'll break into their lair." There are two ways to handle this.
- The diversion is a setup maneuver that a team member performs as part of the plan. A successful setup maneuver can improve position for teammates (possibly offsetting a bad engagement roll) or give increased effect. An unsuccessful setup maneuver might cause trouble for the second part of the plan—an easy consequence is to give the engagement roll -1d. If it makes sense, the team member who performed the setup can drift back into the main operation and join the team later so they don't have to sit out and wait.
- The diversion is its own plan, engagement, and operation, whose outcome creates the opportunity for a future plan. Use this option when the first part of the plan is required for the next part to happen at all. For example, you might execute a stealth plan to steal an artifact from the Museum of the Ancients, then later use that artifact in an occult plan to consecrate a temple for your forgotten god. In this case, you go into downtime (and payoff, heat, etc.) after the first part of the plan, as normal.
Either approach is fine. It's usually a question of interest. Is the linked plan idea interesting enough on its own to play out moment by moment? Is it required for the second plan to make sense? If so, make it a separate operation. If not, just use a setup maneuver.
The rules don't distinguish between actions performed in the present moment and those performed in the past. When an operation is underway, you can invoke a flashback to roll for an action in the past that impacts your current situation. Maybe you convinced the district Watch sergeant to cancel the patrol tonight, so you make a Sway roll to see how that went.
The GM sets a stress cost when you activate a flashback action.
- 0 Stress: An ordinary action for which you had easy opportunity. *The Cutter Consorted with her friend to agree to arrive at the dice game ahead of time, to suddenly spring out as a surprise ally.*
- 1 Stress: A complex action or unlikely opportunity. *The Hound *Finessed his pistols into a hiding spot near the card table so he could retrieve them after the pat-down at the front door.*
- 2 (or more) Stress: An elaborate action that involved special opportunities or contingencies. The Whisper has already Studied the history of the property and learned of a ghost that is known to haunt its ancient canal dock—a ghost that can be compelled to reveal the location of the hidden vault.
After the stress cost is paid, a flashback action is handled just like any other action. Sometimes it will entail an action roll, because there's some danger or trouble involved. Sometimes a flashback will entail a fortune roll, because we just need to find out how well (or how much, or how long, etc.). Sometimes a flashback won't call for a roll at all because you can just pay the stress and it's accomplished.
If a flashback involves a downtime activity, pay 1 coin or 1 rep for it, instead of stress.
One of the best uses for a flashback is when the engagement roll goes badly. After the GM describes the trouble you're in, you can call for a flashback to a special preparation you made, "just in case" something like this happened. This way, your "flashback planning" will be focused on the problems that *do *happen, not the problems that might happen.
Limits of flashbacks
A flashback isn't time travel. It can't "undo" something that just occurred in the present moment. For instance, if an Inspector confronts you about recent thefts of occult artifacts when you're at the Lady's party, you can't call for a flashback to assassinate the Inspector the night before. She's here now, questioning you—that's established in the fiction. You can call for a flashback to show that you intentionally tipped off the inspector so she would confront you at the party—so you could use that opportunity to impress the Lady with your aplomb and daring.
"I want to have a flashback to earlier that night, where I sneak into the stables and feed fireweed to all their goats so they'll go berserk and create a distraction for our infiltration."
"Ha! Nice. Okay, that's seems a bit tricky, dealing with ornery goats and all... 1 stress."
"Should I roll Prowl to sneak in and plant it?"
"Nah. Their goat stable security amounts to a stable boy who is usually asleep anyway. You can easily avoid their notice."
"So it just works?"
"Eh... not so fast. When you want the distraction to hit, let's make a fortune roll to see how crazy the Fireweed Goat Maneuver gets. Three dice."
"The engagement roll is... a 2. Looks like a desperate situation for you! Hmmm. Okay, so you're inside the gang's compound at the docks, slipping up through the shadows next to some huge metal storage tanks. But then all the electric lights come on. The big metal warehouse door rolls open, and you hear a heavy wagon coming in through the gate. Looks like they're getting a delivery right now, and a bunch of gang members are out to receive it. They're about to be on top of you. What do you do?"
"Hang on, I want to have a flashback."
"Okay, for what?"
"Uh. Something... helpful? Damn, I don't know what that would be. Anyone have ideas?"
"Oh, what if you Consorted with your docker friends yesterday and they blabbed about this delivery, so we rigged it with a bomb."
"Oh man, that's hilarious. But kind of nuts. I guess 2 stress for that?"
"Sounds good. But let's make that Consort roll and see if your docker friends made any demands or complicated anything for you. Then we need to find out how well this bomb works. Who was in charge of that?"
"I did it. I'll roll Tinker to set the fuse just right. Hopefully."
Giving up on a score
When you give up on a score, you go into downtime. Follow the phases for downtime presented in the next chapter. You'll usually have zero payoff, since you didn't accomplish anything. You'll still face heat and entanglements as usual.