2011-08-23 Lady Blackbird

There’s a biweekly indie RPG group here in Zürich. I still remember the exhilaration at the table after we played our first session of Spirit of the Century. Yesterday, there was a similar feeling at the table when we finished our session of Lady Blackbird.

They talked their way out of the Hand of Sorrow but captain and pilot were NPCs and had hidden away. A guard notices that the mechanic was a lousy pilot and was killed by the bodyguard. They fled, dodged cannon balls, dove into the depths and escaped. I skipped all sky squid encounters because the pilot was an NPC. They had to organize an updated star chart and decoder wheel, the captain got kidnapped and freed, thugs were beaten up, they agreed to smuggle a load of weapons into the Remnants, got boarded by a bounty hunter called Buxom Bunny, they hid themselves, found a way into the cargo room, set up a time bomb, crossed over to the bounty hunter’s ship while the Owl blew up, Lady Blackbird recognized an old love in Buxom Bunny, they all ended up at the pirate captains’ dinner and Lady Blackbird went in disguise and thus she had to fight Uriah Flint’s champion, which she did. As a reward she claimed a kiss by Uriah to test his faithfulness. When he moved to kiss her, she slapped him and accused him of wenching, he lost his temper and we ended the session with a sorcery fight between Lady Blackbird and Uriah Flint. The lady won!

The actual rules of the game fit on half a page of text, the character sheets are another half a page of text each – and thus every page you hand out to your players is their pre-generated character and the entirety of the rules. As a GM, there’s a page of flavor text, half a page with a map, and half a page with adventure ideas. I basically ran the 2½h session using copies of the character sheets and the half page of adventure ideas.

The mechanics are a mix of Solar System RPG (keys, secrets), Mouse Guard (helping dice, d6 dice pool, conditions) and FATE (traits and tags felt a lot like aspects). There were no skills. I loved it.

The story has hints of Firefly (something that’s not science fiction “in space”) and Star Wars (Leia, Han Solo, the boarding of ships) to inspire but it is sufficiently open ended to adapt itself to your players’ taste. I also liked the many female characters and the romantic framing story. That makes it ideal to introduce new players to it.

Or, according to the author:

I made a game package inspired by the things they like: Firefly, World of Warcraft, and Laputa (Castle in the Sky). The system is my homebrew fusion of TSOY, The Pool, and Mouse Guard. [...] The PDF has a setting guide, starting situation (Poison’d style), pregen characters, and an airship data sheet. It’s presented “oracle style” with plenty of suggested bits for you to fill in as you play. – announcement on Story Games

After the game we wondered whether the simple mechanics would work just as well if we had created the starting situation and characters with their traits, keys and secrets ourselves. How important is this setup?

I think one has to be careful to stick to well know tropes in terms of mechanics, characters and initial situation. As Brand Robins said in the same thread:

John is using genre communication to get across what his games are about. Its pretty easy to see where he does this on the fictional level – drawing on tropes that those the game is for will have some familiarity with and an emotional response to. He’s also doing a similar thing on the mechanical level, where coherent bits are built out of elements across different games.

I’m definitely in the mood to try out more Lady Blackbird Hacks!



It was truly an awesome session! Personal highlights:

  • Bureaucratic diversion attempts over radio (even if that did not work in the end)
  • Blaming the goblin for not taking any steam-porn aboard
  • Stealing coal for the ship
  • Boarding Buxom Bunny’s ship, with a plan!
  • Various informative and funny refreshment flashbacks
  • Tricking pirate captain Flint with the help of some grape fruits

Playing Lady Blackbird was great fun. But your remark about dick moves re. abandoning team members in the Owl made me think: was blowing up the owl essentially a dick move on my part? In hindsight, I should have asked if this was OK with everybody. Of course, as I know Johannes he would not have objected. But still....

Thanks Alex! This awesomeness was to a large extent driven by your GM’ing skills!

I wanted to mention this but forgot it during our wrap-up discussion: We were extremely fast, story-wise! We had this whole complete adventure in well under 3h, including introduction to the system. I guess that is also thanks to the absence of meaningful mechanics for PC-cooperation: You loose the possibility for intricate, complex scenes but the mechanical simplicity of each scene lets you go through an enormous number of scenes per session. Interesting.

lior 2011-08-24 14:39 UTC

Thank you for the kind words.

No, blowing up the ship was not a dick move because the player characters were not blown up. I think this is the important part because players did not expect this to be a player vs. player game.

As for the speed: I think this was deliberate because I knew I wanted to finish by 22:30, 23:00 at the latest. Plus, I skipped all adventure ideas involving piloting. I have read accounts in the Story Games thread saying that they spent an entire session getting out of the Hand of Sorrow. Thus, it was just a question of how complicated I wanted to make it, how many obstacles there were to overcome.

AlexSchroeder 2011-08-24 16:02 UTC

I’m so sad that I couldn’t make it to this session.

Harald Wagener 2011-08-25 09:23 UTC

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