As I’ve previously noted, my Blades in the Dark games require low amounts of preparation. One of the reasons that can work is that I try to have reusable prep. When a score comes up, or when free play gets dangerous, I need to have a list of dangers (complications, consequences, etc.) already handy. These also help for Devil’s Bargains, which effectively mean “a better chance at a good result but with at least one complication certain to happen.”
The first thing to keep in mind is that you can usually just follow from the fiction. If you’ve telegraphed a threat before the players make a roll, then that threat likely makes the most sense as the consequence. An assassin with a knife cuts the scoundrel; a flickering ghost manifests and tries to consume their life essence; the guards in the hallway hear them. Sometimes, however, you need to mix things up, either because you don’t have an immediately obvious threat for the action or because the players did something unexpected and the proximate threat turns out less relevant.
For those, I have two general approaches. The first is to look back at the larger storylines: should one of those suddenly become relevant? If the players sneak through a warehouse and get a complication on a Prowl roll, for example, I could bring in their nemesis somehow. Or perhaps if they suddenly decide to roll Attune in a situation where ghosts were not the immediate threat, I might bring in a spector of someone they killed before but whose ghost did not get captured by the Spirit Wardens.
The other way involves quickly looking over a list of generic threats and seeing what makes sense!
- Rivals show up or interfere. If you know in advance that you will use this, consider reflecting it in the Engagement roll as well.
- Other gangs may go after the same score or operate in the same place at the same time.
- Ghosts, whether echoes or specters or whatever, always float around Doskvol and its surroundings.
- Riots can easily occur in the streets or in areas of oppression. Remember, as Dr King said, riots are the “language of the unheard,” and few folks are as unheard as the downtrodden poor of this city.
- Summoned horrors can come back to bite the Whispers.
- Bluecoats patrol the city, rousting the citizenry or looking for “trouble” (meaning, trouble they can turn into a personal profit).
- Alert guards make for great clocks (usually 4 or 6 segments total).
- Magical wards on higher-end locales or areas where the occult plays a large role can sometimes surprise players.
- Sparkcraft devices basically let you throw in almost any sort of electromechanical tech you want. The Empire runs on electroplasm!
- Entanglements can give a lot of consistency and provide a sense of verisimilitude. Maybe somebody is going to remember their face and that means an extra Heat, or some contact got beaten up a few sessions ago and shows up to complicate things with a complaint. Or just put their vice purveyor in danger!
- Friends can basically do something similar even if the friend is not in trouble. For example, maybe a character’s paramour doesn’t realize they are undercover and calls out their name from across the room…
- Ghost field interference can do lots of weird things. Maybe some “white noise” in the field means any Attune rolls for the rest of the score (or just the next one) lose potency or even -1d.
- Explosions are always a great last resort. When in doubt, blow things up!
Exploit your prep more than once and get the most out of it. Remember that the game gives you lots of tools and dials, so experiment to find what works best for you and your group!