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Devil's Bargains (Blades in the Dark) with Pam Punzalan

Devil's Bargains (Blades in the Dark) with Pam Punzalan

This week, Sam talks with Pam Punzalan about Devil’s Bargains, one part of the dice pool mechanic from John Harper's game Blades in the Dark. Some topics discussed include:

  • Rulebooks as guidelines and play philosophy more than proper rules

  • DBs as a safety tool

  • Generic DBs

  • Do DBs slow down the game? Is that good or bad?

  • Retconning in RPGs (it's good)

  • Putting DBs into any old game

  • Our favorite DBs

Games mentioned:

You can find Pam on Twitter, dice.camp, and itch.io at TheDoveTailor. You can find their newsletter at thedovetailor.substack.com. Her website is thedovetailor.carrd.co.

You can find Sam @sdunnewold on Twitter, dice.camp, and itch.io

You can find Blades in the Dark at bladesinthedark.com.

The Dice Exploder logo is by sporgory, and the theme song is Sunset Bridge by Purely Grey.

Join the Dice Exploder Discord to talk about the show!


Sam: Hello and welcome to another episode of Dice Exploder. Each week we take a tabletop RPG mechanic out from the box of toys and shake it around until it rattles. My name is Sam Dunnewold, and before I introduce my co-host today, we've got a discord. If you wanna talk about the show or other design stuff, you can find the link for that in the show notes. Come on down. We're having some good talks already.

Today my co-host is Pam Punzalan. I've been looking up to Pam's design work for years, starting back with Our Shores, a collection of Southeast Asian RPGs Kickstarted in 2021, and One More Notch, which is their attempt at doing the grishaver with Blades in the Dark. And that seems to evolve into an upcoming official Dagger Isles supplement for the Blades universe, a thing I am absolutely shitting my fucking pants waiting to get my hands on.

Now, I've heard Pam speak on all kinds of podcasts and panels, including at Big Bad Con online the past couple of years on topics like the Southeast Asia RPG scene and world building and publishing at large. Plus a great interview on Fine Blueprints, our sister show on the Fiction First network. And Pam was a d Pam was a Diana Jones Award emerging designer nominee. Oh my gosh. Pam is one of those people who feels like they're just everywhere to me and always saying and doing smart stuff.

Today, Pam brings us Devil's Bargains from Blades in the Dark, possibly my favorite mechanic in RPGs. But is it really even a mechanic or is it more like a play philosophy? Porque no los dos? We talk about how Devil's Bargains encourage so many table culture practices we love and how mechanizing Bargains brings that culture to everyone who plays the game.

The game is a conversation. Make it a good conversation.

So yeah, more conversation. Less monologue. Let's get to it. Here is Pam Punzalan with Devil's Bargains.

Pam, welcome to Dice Exploder.

Pam: Hi. Happy to be here. Hehe.

Sam: What have you brought for us today?

Pam: I have brought to you all the Devil's Bargain mechanic from Blades in the Dark, written by John Harper and Sean Nittner.

Sam: Great. Tell us about Blades in the Dark a little bit.

Pam: So Blades in the Dark, the way I pitch it is it's Oceans 11 meets Dishonored. So you play a heist group, a bunch of scoundrels in a dirty city trying to get by and being kick ass in the process. That's generally how I do it. You only need six-sided dice and the book basically to get started.

Sam: And also there's ghosts.

Pam: Oh yeah.

There are a lot of ghosts and gods and stuff.

Sam: Yeah. Great. Well. Devil's Bargains, specifically one of my favorite parts of this game. Walk us through it.

Pam: So the interesting thing about the Devil's Bargain is that it's something that a lot of GMs do, but you don't really put a formal word to it. Harper is one of the first instances where I saw a designer like take a stab at it. So what you do in the Devil's Bargain is when you see that your players have, I guess, failed at something that they want to do in game, but they really, really want a thing to happen, the GM with a player's consent can do a Devil's Bargain, and this is where they, the GM offers their player: cool. So you want this specific thing to happen. I can give it to you. However, there will be a consequence that takes place either now or later.

And like the examples in the book, Include like you could actually lose money coin or you could lose an item. You could end up with a terrible betrayal of a friend or a loved one. You could offend or anger a big faction. And anybody who has played Blades knows that that can be super dangerous. Or you can start or tick off a troublesome clock in which like an event that could be bad for the players will trigger later. Or you could get them in basically more trouble.

So you could get like really fancy according to the specifics of your table. Like one thing that happened in my Blades group a long time ago, like the very first Blades game I played ever our slide. Really wanted to make sure that he could capture the bad guy that we were chasing after, and he failed a role that ha that should have passed probability wise. But you know how dice work, right? Um,

So it didn't happen and he was like, oh man, like I, I really wanna catch this guy like I really do. So our GM was saying: okay. You can, because don't you have a demonic friend that talks to you every now and then and really likes you, and my player friend was like, yeah. So our GM went okay. Your demonic friend is offering to help you. However, your demonic friend now wants to make sure that he can hang out with your gang more. That was the devil's bargain that was offered. So we would have a demonic presence in our gang that otherwise wasn't there in exchange for catching the bad guy.

Suffice to say, my friend agreed. So for a while we had a little demon buddy running around.

Sam: Yeah, my experience has been the worse the Devil's Bargain, the more likely the players are to take it. Already, you're talking about this mechanic in a really different way from the way that I've played it though, where in, in my games it has been like a conversation before you roll and it only gives you a bonus die.

And like that's how it's written into the game, I think. At least that was my reading of it.

But like something in a game I've been playing recently, The Exiles by Ema Acosta, is doing the exact thing you are talking about of like, we don't even need to care about the dice roll of this. Like, we can just kind of like make the...

Pam: make the thing happen. Yeah.

Sam: Yeah. And, and doing it after the roll too, when you're, you're kind of disappointed, I think as you're saying, this is a common thing in play at large and really, really fun to do. And it's super cool that Blades formalized it.

Pam: Mm-hmm.

I honestly really like it and I like hearing what other GMs do. Cuz like, I, I kind of took what John Harper sets to heart about anything that he wrote in his book that like, generally Blades is it's supposed to be a guidebook. It's not a rules book. So you can change what is written there. It's just he thinks that maybe quote unquote "balance wise" it might be good to do this, but if you wanna do it another way, cool. As long as all of your players agree, that's fine, and you can reccon things as you like anyway.

Sam: Yeah, balance is a really interesting thing to bring into Devil's Bargains, I think. Especially where like if you are a playgroup that is concerned about balance, Devil's Bargains maybe aren't a mechanic for you at all because it's never good as a player to like take a devil's bargain for a bonus die. Like the math just doesn't work out almost regardless of what you're doing.

And like, it, it's almost always the GM being like what if, you know, like this horrible, really horrific thing that I want to have happen. Like, it probably won't be that bad, but like, why don't you just give me permission to do that in exchange for like a little bit of candy now?

And players are like, yeah, well I want the candy. Like, I'm right here. I'm like in trouble, I'm in the hot water. And it's, it's very much this way to like, For everyone to get deeper into the shit. And if you are if you are trying to like minimax your game, I don't know that you're ever gonna want to engage in this kind of situation.

Pam: Yeah. I think it also reveals a lot about, like, as you said, the kind of player that you're dealing with. Like I've had Blades groups where they're just taking candy left and right. So to speak. Like they, they don't care. They, they wanna have fun. They wanna see exactly what kind of shenanigans they can get into. They want to get in trouble, they want to rise above the trouble. And if they don't get to rise above it, at least they can go out in a blaze of glory.

Conversely, I've had a lot of players where they're like, nah, I don't think so. And when the, the not, I don't think so, isn't even about balance for them. It's more they're generally risk averse. As people, so they're not gonna do it.

I've met a few though, that have said, balance wise, it just doesn't make sense. The dice, as they put it, aren't worth it. That's, that's how they frame it.

But more often than not, it's about like, I guess, player anxiety. They don't want their babies getting hurt just yet, and they'd rather fail now and figure something else out later.

Sam: Yeah, I, I think that's also really interesting into what I think is the most interesting part of Devil's Bargains to me, which is how they just mark a place in the game, like in a micro level, in the action role, where you are encouraged to step back and just have a quick little conversation about where the story is at and what direction you want to take it.

Pam: Right. Yeah. It.

Sam: The, the moment of talking about Devil's Bargains, like everyone at the table is encouraged to offer ideas for like what consequence could happen in exchange for a die here or in exchange for success. And that conversation really in my experience, leads to players coming up with great ideas for each other about wouldn't it be great if like this thing happened? And, it also allows people to say, no, I really don't want this story to move in that direction, you know? Really interesting, like safety way.

Pam: Yes. Yeah, it's great consent. And I think a lot of folks that I've met who run Blades at times forget that the Devil's Bargain is supposed to be an agreement that is like, equitable, so to speak to everybody.

So I've seen some really intense negotiations, and I say intense in a good way. Like people got really engaged. We took a long break, everybody talked about it. They hashed out their plans and I even had players who approached me directly saying, can I have a Devil's Bargain for this? And I was like, okay, cool. Why? Right. And then they'd explain that, well, you know, I have this one plot hook that I feel like hasn't been introduced yet and I really wanna lean into it, even if it's a bit hard for my character, cuz I think that it'd be good for their growth. And I was like, oh, okay, sure, let's roll with it.

Sam: Yeah, I get that a lot too. The other thing I really like about that conversation around the Devil's Bargain is it's a way to help the GM generate consequences.

Where I think generating consequences is a really hard thing to do. And just having ideas from players, you might still just like throw it to them if, if they flubbed the roll right.

Pam: Right, right. It, it's good ideas. Like, I think in the game that I had designed with my partner, Navathem's End, we didn't really go for Devil's Bargains per se, not in a formalized fashion. What we chose to do instead was we created what we call a threads table. So it is a d100 table where after an engagement at the option of the table, or according to how rolls went, because in our powered by the apocalypse game, you can overshoot. Meaning if you fail, you could take a thread. If you succeed too far, you could be too strong such that there was collateral and thus you take a thread, right?

So after you roll, there are like 100 randomly generated possible consequences that could occur because of what you did. And some of these aren't even consequences. They're actually invitations for further plot.

Sam: Mm-hmm.

Pam: it could be anything from, well, you know those, those guys that you roughed up had friends and now they're mad to your ex lover, just walk through the doors of the tower. Like that that sort of thing.

And we found that our players were really happy with that because they got to play around a lot with other aspects of the narrative that wouldn't have happened at all if they had just been very linear about the progression of the story.

And for us, GMs just made our lives so much easier because instead of having to like constantly plan, we just lean into the constant active threads.

Sam: That's super interesting. I, I love that. I have also found it really hard in the past, both for myself and in reading what other people have come up with to come up with like generic Devil's Bargains. I feel like that's kind of, kind of like a white whale of the, like Blades in the Dark hacking community. Because the best Devil's Bargains are really specific to the situation. I'm curious to hear you talk about like what it was like to write a table of, you know, this kind of thing without, you know, a specific table to write it for.

Pam: Well, how I wrote for it, cuz I was unfortunately the one who made Sin and my life harder by like, Sin was like, okay, let's make our threads like d6. And I'm like, six consequences isn't enough for a long haul com campaign. It has to be a hundred entries. And Sin was like, babe, are you sure? And I'm like, yeah.

So I wrote a hundred things and how I did it

Sam: That, that, yeah. Was the sound of hubris right there.

Pam: Yes. So I, I try to think about the game's prevalent themes. Like what are the kinds of stories that we would like to encourage at our table? How would we like to make things intimate, personal, and engaging? And what are, I guess, lower gameable, lower related plot points that we felt we could put forward and emphasize based on what we already wrote for the core seven, which were major, I guess, NPC figures, almost like gods that players could lean into or aspects of the different parts of the setting that we could talk about. So it's both generic in the sense that they are tension points, but also specific in that they were tailored to the setting of the game.

Sam: Yeah, you're almost making Devil's Bargains for the setting as opposed to for the particular PCs. Yeah. Interesting. That feels like a great world building tool too.

Pam: Yeah. Yeah. that's kind of where we wanted to go. And I guess it, it worked out on play tests, so people were super happy.

Sam: Yeah. Sweet. So I wanted to talk also about what I have found to be my biggest problem with Devil's Bargains, which is sometimes your table really wants one, like a player really wants that bonus die, really wants to succeed on the role, or, you know, just wants to engage with the fiction here, but no one has a good idea for one.

And that moment sometimes feels like it really kills the momentum of the game. And I felt like one of the skills I had to develop as a Blades GM was when to just sort of breeze past the like, no Devil's Bargains here, right? If you wanna push yourself, you can. Great. We're moving on. And when to sort of like sit in it and dwell in it. So Do you agree? And also if you do, do you have thoughts on like how to tell when it's time to sit down and talk about a Devil's Bargain and how to tell when it's time to just move on?

Pam: I think that my way of doing it, especially since like we mentioned players Really love the idea of succeeding at a roll, right? like, I tend to presuppose that the people who come to Blades are the types who like watching dice roll and going like, "oh!" whenever they got something good or crying when it doesn't work out. Right?

So my biggest thing that I tend to do is I have everybody kind of just take a break first, where we're like, okay, like let's sit down and let's talk about it. And I try to ask the player in question I can see that this is important. Is it worth having a possible consequence tied to you wanting this role to succeed? Or, and, and can you tell me why? Because like getting at where your players are emotionally and like how their investment is in the situation or their character is kind of important. Because it's in asking that question and then framing it immediately with, by the way, this isn't the judgment, it's just me really curious so that I can help figure out where we wanna go.

Because when you pose the question that tends to make people think immediately, like, oh, actually, you know, I think that maybe I can let this go for now and let's see how things play out. Right? People tend to second guess after that moment, and if they don't, then at least you as GM get a sense for how important it was that they succeeded, and that can leave you with two options.

You can either really offer a tailored Devil's Bargain to the situation, or you can retcon. I mean, it doesn't have to like actually, It's not a succeed or fail. This isn't a video game, right? Where the computer will tell you, well, you gotta reload your save, right? You're not a computer, you're a human being, and your players are human beings.

So if you can on it instead to make them feel better, then why not? It's, it's not like they're gonna not have roles from here on and it's not as if it changes anything for you to just fix the narrative according to what your players want in the moment.

Sam: I really love the way that you're, you're talking about Devil's Bargains as almost like a play philosophy, more than a mechanic that like it, it really is like all the time as a gm you can be in conversation with your players about like, what do you want to happen? And then like, how can we find a way to make that happen that also is like exciting within the story.

Pam: Yeah. I do think it is important, I guess now, now that you've given me the words for it to, to really think of it as a type of play instead of just a tool you can use. Because it, it did require negotiation. It's the only mechanic in Blades in the Dark that really requires a lot of negotiation.

And like the book itself also emphasizes the whole idea that the game is a conversation. So if it's a conversation, that means two or more people are speaking. And listening. It doesn't mean that just one person gets to call the shots.

Sam: Yeah. You know, I was asking you like, As a gm, how do you know how much time to spend on any particular Devil's Bargain moment? But in that spirit of like, this is a conversation between people, that's also a question for the players, right?

Like in the same way that it's, it's sometimes a skill to develop as a Blades GM or any GM like, when are we gonna stop and, and check in on this, and when are we gonna move on, because clearly we're all on the same page. Like the, you can develop that skill as a player too. You can say, oh yeah, this is the moment where I want to make sure we slow down. Or this is the moment where like, oh, I've had moments where I check in with the player like, oh, we really need to find a Devil's Bargain for you here. And have the player be like, nah, I don't give a shit. I've already rolled the dice. And, and knowing when to do that as a player feels also really useful.

Pam: Yeah, and it's I guess because people tend to get caught up a lot, these players I've dealt with in wanting so badly that they succeed well, I guess like not quite realizing that maybe the success, their individual success in the moment isn't as important as the overall success of the group in the situation. Like I've seen, I've seen some players get really like pissed off when they're one min-maxer or like absolutely insists that they, they do things a particular way and you know.

Those are two different styles of play. Both can be respectable. I'm, I'm a very, like you do you, as long as it doesn't screw up my plan or my fun, I'm fine. Right? And just reminding people, especially after you pull like the teacherly pause I like to say of, okay, everybody calm down. Right? It, it does remind folks that you're not the only person in the room. This is not a solo run. And that everything at the end of the day is negotiable. Even the past five scenes, if it had to be. And I know that some folks might think that that's a time sink, but I honestly don't think so because again, the one advantage of a TTRPG is that you could literally redo anything at any moment, any time.

Sam: Yeah, That's really cool. So we've already gotten into a lot the idea of Devil's Bargains in other systems, like the idea of the Devil's Bargain or the philosophy of the Devil's Bargain being something that you can bring to non Blades and non forged in the dark games.

So I, I wanted to talk about some other specific examples of ways this gets implemented or can be implemented in other systems.

Like I've had friends who sat down, played Blades, loved it, and then went back to running PBTA games and were like, yeah, okay, I'm gonna just do the Devil's bargain you roll three D six, keep the highest. Or I've seen people do the Dungeons and Dragons fifth Edition inspiration thing.

Or as you've talked about a bunch already, and as I mentioned earlier, got formally into the rule book in The Exiles, this game I'm obsessed with right now, that game, they just have bargains where you cut the dice rolling out entirely and like the ideal form of play is sort of "yeah, we don't care about rolling dice, we're just gonna keep making deals between players and, and GM about how this story's gonna move forward."

Have you seen any other, like, interesting implementations of this or like, specific things, either in other games or just like at the table yourself, like how you've gone about this.

Pam: Randomly generated tables would be like the other big one I've seen from, let's say, a lot of small to mid-sized OSR games where you already have like one big table or a set of tables where you can use one roll and it, it generates like a sentence for you on, on what might happen.

Like in I, there's a game that, like, whose name I can't mention because it's still on play tests. And it is a table where it makes a sentence for you and that sentence is the consequence. It'll say something like uh, well now your community is fucked, basically. Right? And it, the nice thing about the tables is it adds yet another gambling element for folks who are into that sort of thing. And it also, again, offloads a lot of, I guess, planning strain on your GM because, you know, some GMs just really like to roll with it. Literally. Other GMs like to obsessively plan, but they may still need hints of inspiration. So I rather like that.

I also like games that use tokens where you can spend a token and see what happens. I, I've designed a few like that where token usage is specific to generating plot points, not really specific to getting a thing done. So when you spend a token, even if, let's say the role itself failed, it will still open an opportunity for you.

Sam: Yeah. And then are you in that kinda game? Are you like getting tokens by way of getting into trouble? Is that like kind of the idea?

Pam: Yeah, one of my games is designed that way where you get a token by getting yourself into trouble and you can spend a token to get yourself out of trouble.

Sam: Almost like a delayed devil's bargain. Like I'd rather take the bad now and like stockpile the, the tokens for later use.

Pam: Yeah. And I used Belonging Outside Belonging as my main model for that because I really liked how the token generation created a constant economy of narrative and an opportunity. And, I've noticed that players really like that, especially if you can really fine tune your token usage according to their character sheet archetypes or playbooks.

Like, one of my games right now that I'm making. It's a hunter game. So the archetypes are things like the Stitch, which is the overall fixer to the Meat Man, which is like combat oriented

Sam: the Meat Man?

Pam: Cuz it's supposed to be a hunter game. And people, whether they're werewolves or vampires or meat.

Sam: That's incredible. I love that name. That's amazing.

Pam: I'm very proud of it. Um, And since the meat man's archetype is a violent archetype one of the tokens that you can gain you can gain it by overshooting, by becoming fearsome and scary to somebody you care about. And that's a token that you can gain through doing that specific thing, right? But converse, you can spend a token to perform a feat that is well above your pay grade, but it makes you look awesome.

And a lot of people I've noticed who come from very technical games are initially shocked at how vague the wording is. But then later they leaned into it by going, oh, but then we could interpret it this way. Oh, but then I can do that instead. And like as a GM, I'm so happy to hear them get really creative. Also I'm happy to see players go, this is a bit too vague for me. Can everybody sit down and let's talk about it? And then everyone again gets engaged in the situation. Or they can opt out and go like, okay, I'm just gonna like smoke a cigarette while you guys figure it out and everybody's happy, you know. You like created a natural pause for conversation. And for like re acclimatizing to the fact that actually there's the game space, but then there's the human space. So we all might need some snacks or we might need to take a pause and kinda stare at this whiteboard of a situation and go, where the fuck are we going? You

Sam: There's another thing interesting you said in there to me about like, people like it when the kinds of moves they can make with these tokens are really definitive of the archetype of their character or of the playbook that they're playing. And how even in regular Blades, the Devil's Bargain is in a lot of ways that conversation, like, what is it that your character cares about and does? That, it, it is coming back to that, that conversation whe whether you are sort of defining that upfront in the playbooks or whether you're having that conversation at the table with the devil's bargain conversation in Blades, that sitting down and, and talking about "what is your character's deal again?" Like what are they good at, and like, what are they bad at and what is matters to them? The devil's bargain as an opportunity to have that conversation is very cool.

Pam: Yeah. And I really think that more people need to focus on that. Like the emotional, the, this is my opinion, of course, right? The, the emotional dimension of the bargain. Because the wording is also deliberate from Harper. It's a Devil's Bargain, right? And classic devil at the crossroads situations. To be at the crossroads means you are desperate and you're desperate because whatever this thing is matters to you so much that you will do literally anything to get it. Right?

And in the moment, you cannot say the Devil's bargain was a mistake, because that would be short changing you as a player. That would also be short changing the intelligence of your character. Right? And I'm, I'm a big GM who believes that that should not be done. Never underestimate the fact that, you know, we're in it now. Choices were made. Right? And at the moment, each one of those choices that led up to this bargain was important. So like, just acknowledging that importance helps everybody get into their feelings. And feelings are great, so.

Sam: Yeah, yeah. And I mean, I think making hard character choices is kind of what tabletop RPGs are about. Not like every single tabletop RPG, but like a majority of them. Like that is the most exciting thing that can happen at the table

Pam: Yeah. Yeah. absolutely.

Sam: The Devil's Bargain is, is like a little, sometimes it's like the best version of that decision.

But even when it's at a small level, it's still, here's a little character choice. What about this? Okay, now we're moving on. It's just the, the most micro version of that great thing about the medium is, is wonderful that to have around.

Pam: Yeah, and I'd actually like to see more people come up with like cozier versions of it. Where you can, you can systematize or mechanize a not Devil's Bargin. Maybe it's literally a favor from a God or a, or a fairy godmother moment. You know, one of one of those things, it'd be cute to see more designers take a stab at it and remove the scaffolding of desperation.

Into something that entirely suits their game. Like I'd be down to see how people write that, because a lot can be said about a designer's intent and also the themes and aesthetics of the game with how you, you literally write down the copy of your mechanics.

Sam: Yeah, we've got an episode coming up all about Divine Favor and Agon,

Pam: Oh, that's cool.

Sam: Yeah, where you basically have this whole soap opera of Greek gods like stapled to your character sheet. And on any given roll you can, like take a bonus die basically by like calling in a favor with Zeus.

Pam: Oh,

I love that.

Sam: It feels like that as extension of Devil's Bargain is something to Yes, as you are saying under-explored opportunity

in game design.

Pam: Yeah.

Sam: All right. I have a, I have a couple of sort of smaller questions I wanted to take us out on. So first is how often are your Devil's Bargains in Blades literally with devils?

Pam: For me, in the last few playgroups I had, I have to say nearly all of them. Um, And I think it was not really because I intended it to, but because my, my playgroup. Well, it wasn't really a Blades game, it was actually set in my Grisha verse version of Blades. So that meant that you have a lot of magic being flung around and a lot of lost secrets from the failure of the Sun Sumner to fix the world.

Sam: A lot of devils to bargain

Pam: Yep. So a lot of folks were like, I really wanna engage in this, because they were either huge fans of the books or they wanted to see more of the world I had created and why that book was so cool. So they, they just chose literally every possible supernatural entity. That was available. And I'm like, are, are you sure?

And they're like, hell yeah, let's go. And I'm like, okay, we're in it now.

Sam: Some people just want to have their cult, you know, go as culty as possible.

Pam: Yeah, exactly. So I, I, I actually am struggling to think of moments where the bargain was not literally Demonn Devil or God related.

Sam: It, it does feel like every Blades game I run, like eventually ends up with someone with a clock that's like "addicted to demon's assistance" or something. Like, you know that like someone's coming and knocking on your brain at the wrong time because you took too many "free" Devil's Bargains. Yeah.

So the, the, the last thing I wanted to ask was if you have any particular Devil's Bargains that you remember that were just really, really great that you really love and stick out in your memory. You opened with one, which was great, but I, I wanted to see if you have any others.

Pam: Well at my, at my Grisha verse table, the. If I'm remembering cuz it's a bit hazy to me now. It's been a while. But if I'm remembering correctly, my group was very attached to a NPC who was perhaps the last remaining true vigilante in the city. And this guy had really stuck his neck out for them and he was going to do the equivalent of a suicide run in that he would sacrifice himself and his gang to make sure that this group, which was kind of building itself up to be the successors to his cause would succeed.

And the Devil's Bargain that was made, and it was a bit collaborative because it was actually several small Devil's Bargains that each one of the players took, and all of them made specific deals with other strong figures in the game who normally wouldn't have an interest in this tiny, like, rebel group. But they played their cards really well in that they offered things like territory, secrets, and literal power, because a few of them were arcane in nature, to make sure that this guy made it out.

So that was a, that was a fascinating confluence of events where I was just like, I was fully ready to let that NPC go. Cuz I was like, you know, it's time, right? Like they're, this, this campaign is fantastic. Let's see what'll happen if, like, they have to put on the big boy and girl pants on. And the narrative result was that sure, they saved this guy's life and they saved this gang.

Sam: But at what coooooost??

Pam: But at what cost. Right? But also because they saved him and his people that also increased the clout, and therefore the weight class, of the enemies that they dealt with. Because now they were the big ones on the block and everybody knew it.

Sam: They somehow got this guy out alive. Like they, they must be able to punch with us. They're a real threat.

Pam: Right. Except like narrator's voice was like, and then this tier two gang found themselves facing tier fives. Right.

Sam: yeah, yeah. Oh, that's great. I'm gonna share my favorite devil's Bargain, which was micro level. They, I think they were like trying to rob a safe, they couldn't get the safe open. It was like a farcical comedy of errors. They've got this safe on the second floor and they like, are maybe gonna push it out the window to like take care of the blue coat that's like coming in to knock on them. So they push it out the window and like it lands on the wrong guy. And I'm like, all right, your devil's bargain for doing this can be that it was that guy's birthday. That like, it's really just like, it's, it's sad. We're gonna just make it sadder. That's it. You like committed murder and I'm gonna rub it in your face about it. And like, yeah, go for it. Otherwise, but like, feel, I want you to feel as bad as possible. It was that guy's birthday.

And that became a meme in our, our game. So every time any like relatively innocent bystander came to harm, someone would shout out about how it was their birthday.

Pam: That's so cute. The, the meme that I had at my first table was "well, that's it. He's dead now."

Sam: Yep. Yep.

Pam: One of our. It just so happened that on several occasions, one of our co-scoundrels, whether it was me or someone else in the gang, or an NPC that was part of our gang, would just not come to the rendezvous point on time.

And like there's always our one lurk who'd just look at everybody as his character's fixing tea and go like, "well, he's dead now." So that became our meme.

Sam: I really love how our examples really hit two extremes on the Devil's Bargain spectrum, right? Like you could have this really detailed conversation about what your story is and where you want it to go. You know, like you were really expecting this person to die and they really committed. They used the conversation, they used this mechanic to prevent that from happening.

And on the other hand, you can just like throw some extra jokes in there if you want to. And it really is like the power of just talking with each other. Like that's what this mechanic is. it's just the conversation. It's, it's just check in with people and, and talk about where you wanna see the story go. Oh, any final thoughts?

Pam: Please wait for a Dagger Isle supplement. We're working on it.

Sam: Oh, hell yeah. I, my, my table's losing their minds. I, it's, yeah, we're pumped. Um, Pam, thanks so much for being here.

Pam: Thank you for having me. This is great.

Sam: Thank you, Pam, for being here. You can find her on Twitter @TheDoveTailor, their newsletter slash blog at thedovetailor.substack.com and everything they're doing thedovetail.carrd.co. That's c a r r d dot c o. The Daggar Isles! Soon! But also Navethem's End! You're gonna love it all.

As always you can find me on Twitter and dice.camp and itch at sdunnewold.

And our logo was designed by sporgory. And our theme song is Sunset Bridge by Purely Gray.

Dice Exploder is a production of the Fiction First Network, an actual play and podcast production co-op based outta the Blades in the Dark discord. Come on by and join us. We would love to see you there.

And thanks as always to you for listening. See you next time.

Dice Exploder
Dice Exploder
A show about tabletop RPG design. Each episode we bring you a single mechanic and break it down as deep as we possibly can. Co-hosted by Sam Dunnewold and a rotating roster of designers.