Dark Actual Play

Shortly after my last post about Dark, I got the chance to run it for a couple players. And, then for whatever reason I kept putting off posting an AP report. So, hopefully my memory doesn’t fail too hard here!

I ran the scenario that came with the beta kit sent out to Kickstarter backers. If you think you might get to play that and spoilers are important you may want to stop reading since I probably won’t be able to avoid spoilers.

Setup

I started out by explaining the system a bit. How performing actions worked and how playing cards down work. That part is pretty straight forward. I went ahead and let them pick from the pre-made characters so they could have a sheet to reference as I pointed out things. One player chose Somerset, the other with Larkish.

Then I presented the players with their initial decks (consisting only of A-4 of each suit) and explained how to spend the XP they started with to add more cards into their deck. There was some confusion on how buying face cards worked, but we were able to eventually sort that out. I think I just need to find a way to more clearly explain that in the future.

I also let them know that the adventure didn’t necessarily have a lot of focus on social skills or using a disguise, but that I had a good idea of how to handle those things so they didn’t need to shy away from them completely. I just wanted to make sure they understood that those would be semi-unexplored areas without a lot of rules in the beta kit to back them up.

I gave them the starting pitch for the game that they were on a mission to get a very valuable jewel from a courier that was stopping for the night in a tavern. At that point we were ready to jump in and play.

All told, all the set up took, at most, 30 minutes.

Act 1

Act 1 centers around said tavern. They immediately decided to go in different directions to find their own way into the establishment. I was actually really happy about that because I wanted to see how the game handled it, and I thought it handled it really well.

Larkish decided to climb up to the roof of the tavern and find a way in there, eventually deciding to make his way down the chimney, sustaining some minor injuries on the way.

Somerset decided to go around back and was confronted with a locked door into the back of the building. While slowly picking the lock he was interrupted by a patron coming through the door to go to the privy. Luckily he was able to get out of the way and avoided notice. Once the patron was.. mid-business, the player was able to get into the tavern with no problem.

Meanwhile, Larkish decided to plunder the kitchen a bit for whatever valuables he could find, mostly some well-made utensils and cookware.

Somerset was confronted with some guest rooms and managed to plunder a couple of them for a couple bags of coin, at which point he climbed up the rafters and made his way over the great room where he was able to avoid the notice of the guards below.

By now Larkish had managed to get into the pantry to start looking for the jewel. By the time Somerset had made it into the kitchen, Larkish was ready to go at which point I hand-waved them getting out of the tavern since the interesting parts had already happened.

Act 2

The thieves went to find Milos to hand over the jewel, but it turns out Milos is nowhere to be found. After a bit of time asking around and eavesdropping on a couple conversations they were able to put together that Milos was kidnapped and the gang was known to be holed up at the old Thrush Keep.

Act 3

Act 3 starts with the two thieves doing some legwork to see what they can figure out about the keep. They don’t manage to get a lot of useful intel, so they know they have to play it safe going in.

Somerset & Larkish decide to stick together for the majority of the raid into the keep. They manage to get into the keep with little problem, sneaking past a couple inattentive guards at the gate. They manage to get up to the second floor where they loot a few rooms. At one point they accidentally come face-to-face with a thief guarding the two gang leaders’ rooms, but Larkish was able to put together a convincing enough lie that the guard ran off and they had a little time to explore. Not long enough as eventually someone else comes snooping around and catches Somerset mid-lockpick. Larkish manages to put him down quickly, but not without taking a wound himself.

They manage to get into the leader’s room and loot everything not nailed down and they find a small staircase leading up where they find the treasure room. More looting.

After some careful eavesdropping they realize they’re next-door to the room where Milos is being held captive and being tortured. They hear the torturer leave so they decide to rush in to get Milos while they have an opening. They find him unconscious and losing a lot of blood (thanks to a complication from a Joker).

They come up with a plan to smash out a window and lower a table down to the river to use as a makeshift raft. They manage to put together a rope of sorts using sheets & curtains and such. Just before they’re about to climb out the leader of the gang busts in and a short fight breaks out leaving the leader dead and Somerset busted up but otherwise okay.

Thoughts

Overall it went really well. The players really liked the card mechanics and a lot of interesting things there as far as when to hold on to cards when to play them and what not.

One thing I really struggled with that I have to keep an eye on going forward is that if I’m running a pre-made scenario my mind often expects everything to be laid out for me, which obviously isn’t the case. So sometimes I struggled filling in holes when the players got really curious. Like it became important a couple times to know what the windows were like. I wasn’t really sure, so to make it easy I just said they were solid glass that couldn’t be opened. I don’t know how accurate that is to the setting. Either way in hindsight it feels a bit like blocking the players for no real reason.

One major thing that I need to work is that I don’t feel like I did a very good job making some places feel very alive. Like with patrolling guards and such. Just because a guard is listed in a particular room doesn’t mean they might not get up and poke around or patrol an area.

I like the suspicion/tolerance mechanic of Dark, but it really never came into play it seemed like. The players were always careful about not playing too many cards and playing an edge to reduce suspicion. I don’t know if that’s normal or if it would’ve been better if the NPCs were more “alive”. It’s definitely something to keep an eye on in future playthroughs.

The success rate of actions seemed pretty high. That’s not necessarily a bad thing and I’m not sure what I was expecting anyhow. But I don’t know if I was being too easy with numbers or the players were just playing really safe/getting lucky with good hands. On the other hand (heh), Jokers make a pretty good equalizer once they come out. I kept thinking of Jokers like a miss in Apocalypse World: make as hard a move as you want.

My two players pretty much never petitioned for a second suit for any actions. I usually threw out what I thought was obvious and they never tried to allow a second one. That seemed really surprising to me, especially when they obviously didn’t have a hand that had many (or any) of the suit. Having a clearer idea of the scope of the 4 suits would probably help with this. I stumbled over the descriptions of those at first and we were mostly relying on what was printed on the character sheets, which wasn’t quite enough to capture what the suits could do. Next time I’ll probably write out some of the description of the suits from the beta kit.

Also, for whatever reason I shied away from the paranormal stuff that can happen in the Keep. I feel like I probably did my players & the game a disservice by doing that. I think I was just nervous about it since there wasn’t a lot of detail in the beta kit, so I just cut it completely. Next time I’ll make sure to include that part of the adventure.

I like the way looting works, but I felt like I often had a hard time setting a difficulty for it. Like, I could generally include an alertness for nearby guards, but I wasn’t sure what the base difficulty should be of thieving stuff out of a given room. Most of the time I just aimed for an average difficulty of around 7 and that seemed to work okay.

Actually, speaking of difficulty I did struggle with setting that for most things. I’m hoping that as I play more I get more of an idea of how hard some tasks should be. It wasn’t a major stumbling block and things still worked out okay, I just hope to get a better grasp on it.

I also wasn’t always sure what to do when an action failed. I wasn’t real sure how task/intent should be tied together in Dark. Like should I let them do what they were doing with a complication? Have them fail totally and force them to use up more cards trying again? I’m generally not a fan of trying the same thing over & over, so I tried to avoid doing that. Granted there weren’t a lot of failures so it didn’t come up much. The one example I can think of is when a player failed to pick a lock, so I decided to have a guard walk in and interrupt. That seemed to work well enough, but I don’t want to do that every time of course.

Like I said, overall, I really enjoyed the game and I’m excited to play more of it and eventually get my hands on the full rules. I imagine having access to the that will help cement a lot of things in my mind. I’m also looking forward to seeing how the game fills with 3, 4, or even 1 player if I get a chance.

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