Lady Blackbird

One of my favorite role-playing games for one-shots: Lady Blackbird.

2015-03-09 Magister Lor

We played Magister Lor (PDF) and it went well. In general, I think most of us liked it. All except one would probably play it again in a few months. After the game, we talked about it some more.

The things we liked are the simple rules, the layout keeping rules and character sheet on a single page, this being a different situation entirely than Lady Blackbird...

When compared to Lady Blackbird, I noticed a difference in theme. The thing I like about Lady Blackbird is that the underlying theme appears to be love and friendship. Is the love between Lady Blackbird and the pirate real? What sort of bond is there between Lady Blackbird and her body guard? What sort of bond between the captain and his goblin? What sort of relation between Lady Blackbird and the mechanic? It’s interesting, it’s positive, and it goes into themes that my usual games do not.

In comparison, the theme of Magister Lor wasn’t as strong: revenge and forgiveness, the love and hate between siblings – somehow we couldn’t relate as much. The setup is also highly symmetrical. Master and Apprentice vs. Master and Apprentice. Brother vs. Brother. Magister vs. Demon. This contrasts with the multi-layered Lady Blackbird setup where bonds of various strengths relate characters to each other in asymmetrical ways. This made it feel a lot simpler, or it provided us with less guidance towards a complex situation.

One proposed solution was that we might start our next game without any pool dice, forcing us to start with refreshment scenes. Perhaps that would introduce some initial asymmetries and some “grit”.

Another thing we noticed in comparison with Lady Blackbird was that this is a clear player-vs-player situation, the game does not come with a suggested list of obstacles, events, and so on. These provided a lot of setting and inspiration for the game master to improvise upon. This is lacking in Magister Lor. A list of things to do in the Sanctum would have been nice – even if just a list of things to use against each other! Circuits? Elevators? Traps? Archives? Magical currents? Prisons? Names of demons and their characteristics? It would have helped, I think. Perhaps somebody else will write something like that?

When compared to our goto player-vs-player game, In A Wicked Age, we noticed that Magister Lor does not provide best interests for the characters. There is some guidance hidden away in the keys, but since these try to suggest various ways of running the game without offering a clear “win condition”, I think we all went with the simplest solution: Fight! Master and apprentice vs. demon and apprentice. In hind sight, not the most exciting development.

All in all, 4/5 stars.

★ ★ ★ ★

Here’s how I think about the number of stars: 5 is a recommendation, 4 is a good game with some very good elements, 3 is a good game that I’d play again, 2 is only for people who like a particular thing about the game and 1 is not recommended.


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2014-08-24 Darkening Skies

At the local con, I ran four games. The game for Saturday morning was Darkening Skies by Chris Sakkas, an unofficial chapter two for Lady Blackbird by John Harper. The players at the con were the very same ones I had a year ago, plus one. Seven players!

Last year, we played Lady Blackbird, this year we played Darkening Skies. And I think they want to play another session next year. I had to make two new characters. They love it, they love my running the game, and I love them.

The game mechanics are great. Simple enough for everybody to understand. Using a trait and various appropriate tags replaces a multitude of related skills, and it informs the narrative. The results, on the other hand, cannot be talked away using bennies. You must invest your pool dice before you roll. Oh, the groaning at the table when a sure roll fails anyway! “One’s for free, one for being a veteran, one for being fast, and … uh … help, guys??”

The refresh mechanics are also extremely simple. Players need to replenish their pool. If there’s a lull in the action, two players can get together, have a flashback or some intimate conversation that lets us, everybody at the table, know something about them, how they got to know each other, how they felt about each other, how they feel about each other right now. When I run the game, I tell the players that we all want to be entertained. Tell us! And slowly, players start to appreciate that the game is also about the personal drama. He loves here but she’s looking for somebody else. This somebody else is an imperial captain out to get the pirates. One of the players is the pirate captain come to rescue them. One is the imperial spy come to rescue the imperials. One is the sheriff come to see justice done. One is the priest come to find forgiveness. This initial setup, and the mechanics slowly pushing the players to reveal more and more about their characters. At the end we have a sister betraying her brother, a gentleman shooting the true love of his beloved, an aristocrat rebuffed by a pirate, all of these things come together, and ships are exploding, and escape pods are raining down from the sky, and everybody is shouting and shaking their heads and whispering under their breath, “That was cruel, man. Cruel.”

I love it.

5/5 stars!

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Comparing it with my previous experience of running Darkening Skies, I’d say what worked much better was Jezebel’s love interest going on a mission to capture the pirates, so it wasn’t easy for her to leave. Other than that, we had the same effect as last time: the party split up into three groups or more, but this time, with so many players at the table, and many of them so much into it, this was not a problem. They simply moved aside and talked about things, in character. Twice, I had to tell such groups to please not keep their secrets to themselves. We all wanted to know what was going down. So many things were going on, all at the same time. It was confusing and wonderful.

Extra German characters:

Support John Harper on Patreon, if you are so inclined.


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2014-08-22 OerliCon

Heute war der erste Tag des Zürcher Rollenspieltreffens, der OerliCon (in Dietikon). Ich habe viele Leute wieder getroffen, welche ich von früher kenne, alte Mitspieler aus alten Runden und von früheren Jahren, ein paar Bekannte aus der Pen & Paper Schweiz Facebook Gruppe, ... viel zu kurz, um mit allen zu schwatzen. Ich habe In A Wicked Age geleitet und es hat super funktioniert. Gerne wieder mal!

Am Samstag Vormittag habe ich Darkening Skies für die Gruppe geleitet, die letztes Jahr mit mir Lady Blackbird gespielt hat. Es hat grossen Spass gemacht. Danke! :)

Am Samstag Nachmittag habe ich dann Isotope geleitet. Auch dies hat grossen Spass gemacht. Diesmal ging es mehr um die Komik der Postapokalypse und der Mutationen als um die Beziehungen unter den Charakteren.

Am Samstag Abend habe ich noch eine kleine Mission Mouse Guard geleitet, was leider nicht sehr gut ankam. Da ich selber auch immer noch kein Freund von Mouse Guard bin, sollte ich das Spiel vielleicht aus der Liste streichen. Es ist halt ein guter Kontrast zu den anderen Spielen. Mechanisch intensiv, wie alle Burning Wheel HQ Spiele.


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2014-07-02 Darkening Skies

The other day we played Darkening Skies, an unofficial Lady Blackbird sequel. It went very well. My prep was minimal (a few minutes at most), the rules were easy to understand, the setting quick to get into. Rules, plot and setting borrow so heavily from current sensibilities, it’s incredibly easy to digest. Everybody at the table sees within the material the things they like: Firefly, Star Wars, The City of Lost Children, Solar System, Apocalypse World, Fate, Mouse Guard, it can all be there if you start looking for it.

One thing to look out for is the additional freedoms built into the setup. Lady Blackbird had characters with diverging goals, but they were all going to a particular destination on a ship. So even if the stories diverged on the way, characters always returned to the ship an proceeded on to the next chapter. In Darkening Skies, the characters all have a reason to come to the ship, but they have different reasons for leaving the ship.

As soon as Jezebel had found her target, for example, she was ready to leave the ship. After contacting all the factions on board, the remaining party soon decided that they needed to split up. Half of them were going to blow up the bridge while the other half was going to find a lander. The bridge fight was going very, very badly. The two characters ended up “presumed dead”.

Should I run it again, I’ll have to push harder in order for the party to feel the need to stick together. Perhaps I was to lax in the beginning and when players realized how deep the shit was they were getting themselves into, it was too late. No more refreshment scenes, no more helping dice, no more group efforts. I think players where surprised to see this happy Hackbird go into survival horror mode.

I loved it, 4/5 stars.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆


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2014-06-20 Rewarding a Thing

Recently Ian Borchardt wondered on Google+, what people thought of basing experience gains off of class. He was thinking of fighters gaining experience fighting, magic users gaining experience learning spells, and so on. Ian was interested in applying this to D&D solo play. I think the topic bears a wider discussion, however.

I see two things to consider. How will this rule affect gameplay at the table? How will this rule affect what characters do in the game world?

I remember playing Burning Wheel and related games from Burning Wheel Headquarters. These games usually tie advancement to successes and failures in tests. Therefore, every test you make takes a tiny bit of bookkeeping. How difficult was the test? Did I succeed or fail? Jot it down. That’s too much bookkeeping for my taste.

In the games of The Shadow of Yesterday, Solar System or Lady Blackbird, characters have at least one Key. Each key describes a very individual way of gaining experience.

Example Key from Lady Blackbird:

Key of the Paragon As a noble, you’re a cut above the common man. Hit your key when you demonstrate your superiority or when your noble traits overcome a problem. Buyoff: Disown your noble heritage.

Each key also has a buyoff. If the buyoff condition occurs, you have the option of removing the Key and earning two advances, which you can use to buy another Key or two.

Whenever I ran or played these games I liked this mechanic because it gave players the choice to pick whichever Key they desired, implicitly telling the GM what they wanted the game to be about.

As players get to select the Keys and they get to change them as part of their advancement, Keys can be more fine-grained than just the character’s class, and yet they don’t require as much bookkeeping as Burning Wheel and all those games because not every roll of the die needs record keeping. Players actively try to trigger their Key, and when it happens, they mark it off. Easy.

It is pretty free form, however. As the referee of such a game, you should have a list of Keys prepared that serves as an implicit indication of where you see the game going. By agreeing on a set of Keys beforehand, referee and players can make sure that the Keys stay within the kind of game they want play. It doesn’t have to be an anything goes kind of game.

Mazes & Minotaurs has the kind of experience system that Ian Borchardt was suggesting. I’ve never tried it, it seemed reasonable on paper, but I had trouble imagining it at the table. After every encounter, the fighter player speaks up and says, “that was worth 3 XP for me, right?” The mage player loots the lab and says, “two new scrolls found, 2 XP?” If it happens a lot, it could be a lot like the bookkeeping after every test in the Burning Wheel Headquarters games. If it happens rarely, it could be like a permanent Key in Lady Blackbird.

Then again, something I like in role-playing games is changing gameplay over time. It seems to me that making this Key basically permanent prevents this to some extent.

In a D&D game with dungeons and wilderness adventures I’d say that rewards based on class lead to a kind of reinforcement that I don’t like. Fighters will want to fight monsters that don’t need fighting, thieves will want to steal from people we don’t want to steal from, etc.

To elaborate – and this goes for solo as well as party play – I think that doing a thing should not be rewarded. That’s going to go Pavlov quickly is what I’m guessing. What I want is players doing things in order to get a reward, in other words, they are doing something else in order to get a reward. The action and the reward should be orthogonal. Fighters fight in order to get treasure. Wizards cast spells in order to get treasure. This is how they get to choose their approach, quietly or forcefully, quickly or slowly, talking or fighting, and so on. It allows for more ingenuity in my book.

Anyway, this is what I expect to happen without actually having tried it, and only based on my D&D 3.5 experience. There, fighting monsters granted most of the XP. Avoiding a fight and going about the mission quietly was always an uphill mental battle. It was going against the affordance of the rules. The reward structure did not invite players to push harder, it invites players to optimize harder (since combat appears unavoidable, in a way, combat is the reward).


Comments on 2014-06-20 Rewarding a Thing

In D&D, I generally favor granting XP for accomplishing goals, almost like getting XP for completing a quest in a computer game. How you reach those goals is unimportant – what matters is that you get them done. It might be dragging home piles of treasure from an ancient tomb, saving a princess, or stopping a marauding dragon. My only criteria are that the goals are non-trivial and matter to the characters and/or players.

In fact, I like to go a step further – characters level when the players have progressed the story arc or campaign some reasonable amount. Our current D&D Next game evolved away from totaling XP for monsters slain (though if we found a good way to avoid a monster or challenge, we were usually given identical XP for that too), and now just relies on the DM’s feel of the game to figure out when going up a level is appropriate.

– Adrian 2014-07-03 22:07 UTC

It makes sense to level up on achieving goals. Basically you’re saying: A new chapter is beginning. The characters have changed. I like how that ties in with my preference for changing gameplay over time. Enough sleep and magic missile. Time to see some lightning bolt and fireball action. The only difficulty I see personally is how a referee is supposed to handle this in an open sandbox. As the players adopt new goals, the table decides as a collective that upon reaching this or that goal, they will all level up? Or do referees decide themselves? As Courtney argues in his blog post, On Advancement Mechanics, Experience, there’s always the danger of taking away agency from players. If the table agreed on an adventure path, on an adventure arc, then that is not an issue, I guess. I never tried it. I’m glad to hear that it’s working out.

AlexSchroeder 2014-07-03 22:35 UTC

Another good article on the topic of rewards: Don’t reward your players for role-playing. I laughed when I got to “I have an intrinsic dislike of extrinsic rewards.” I totally agree with this: “Giving out an extrinsic reward destroys the intrinsic fun. When you’re rewarded for performing an activity you enjoy, you lose interest in performing it for it’s own sake.” The post also includes a link the abstract of A meta-analytic review of experiments examining the effects of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation by Deci, Koestner and Ryan. The article is also available via Research Gate. So what’s the point of XP in the first place? It’s there to “make sure that the game you play tomorrow is different from the game you played today.” This is something I keep saying about long-term campaigns: There needs to be a promise of ever-changing gameplay. XP is part of this. (In D&D, I think the other part is due to how spells are structured.) And if you’re handing out XP to “make them role-play more,” Jack Mack has you covered as well: “It’s a type of behavioral conditioning, a skinner box made to get your friends to behave the way you want. You shouldn’t need this. If you have a player who’s shy and doesn’t role-play much, why use a passive-aggressive rewards system to punish them for playing that way? If you dislike the way someone plays, why not just talk to them about it? Extrinsic rewards are just going to make them enjoy role-playing even less than they did in the first place.”

A blog post full of win.

I ended up having an interesting discussion with Tim Franzke in the comments to my Google+ post and on his Google+ reshare. One of his points was that in BWHQ games (Mouse Guard, Burning Wheel, Torchbearer, ...) he’s having great fun with getting rewarded for role-playing, an activity that he enjoys. I said that as for providing both rewards (intrinsic and extrinsic), I could only reiterate what the blog post said:

Intrinsic fun AND extrinsic fun, that must combine to make the game more fun than ever, right? Well, research has found that’s not quite true. In the words of this literature review: “...expected tangible rewards made contingent upon doing, completing, or excelling at an interesting activity undermine intrinsic motivation for that activity.” Giving out an extrinsic reward destroys the intrinsic fun. When you’re rewarded for performing an activity you enjoy, you lose interest in performing it for it’s own sake. – Jack Mack

If it isn’t true for you, I said, then I’ll argue that Burning Wheel is different because of the following:

  1. Some of the rewards comes at the end of the session, so they are pretty dissociated from the act. Perhaps that undermines it.
  2. Most of the rewards don’t reward “role-playing” but succeeding and failing at tests, being useful, moving the story forward, moving the story in unexpected directions, making people laugh.

As for me, I feel like getting paid—I feel dirty!—when we need to talk about most valuable player, embodiment, mold breaker and workhorse. It’s not too bad because I don’t think about it during the session. I’d argue that the negative effects of the extrinsic reward don’t affect me that much because of #1 above, the rewards at the end of the session are far removed from actual play. It’s still an awkward situation for me, and one of the many reasons I don’t play Burning Wheel.

On Tim’s own thread, he summarized his experience as follows:

I like getting rewarded “for roleplaying” because it makes me do suboptimal things. It creates neat decision points. – Tim Franzke

In a recent old school D&D session run by Harald, my cleric lost an arm. So what to do? No more shield use? Use a spiked shield and switch between protecting myself and bashing people? I decided to try and run my cleric as a pacifist. No more attacking. Clearly a suboptimal decision, and I didn’t do it because I expected a reward, I did it because I think it will be fun. I still want him to go on adventure, fight monsters and take their stuff, because that’s how I’ll get XP and level up, but the absence of a reward doesn’t mean that suboptimal decisions will not be taken. In fact, I’d argue that being humble without expecting an extrinsic reward would be more humble. The player would feel humble. The other players would be astonished at the humility. It would be a more valuable experience for the humans sitting at the table. Sitting at the same table, I might feel the urge to tease you, saying: “But you just did it for Artha…” Perhaps we’d enjoy ourselves because of the irony as we are players sitting at the table making our characters do things we know the players don’t feel at the table. There’d be a lot of winking and eye rolling, of “my character is so humble, he cannot accept this bow!” and “of course he is, hahaha!” The meta level turns into the source of entertainment. Speaking for myself, I find this reduces my enjoyment, unfortunately.

On the same post, I got pulled into a discussion with Robert about “extrinsic rewards for X but not Y” vs “extrinsic rewards for X and Y”. Clearly, I’m in the camp of “extrinsic rewards for X but not Y”—the interesting question should be why I prefer to reward looting but not role-playing, right? The answer in the context of Jack Mack’s blog post is that role-playing is an activity I enjoy at the table, it has intrinsic value, where as looting is something that has no intrinsic value at all. I just do it because that’s what I need to in order change the game over time, or in Jack Mack’s words, “to make sure that the game you play tomorrow is different from the game you played today.” It’s one of the things that makes role-playing games a game. It’s also left to the table to decide how far we want to go in the pursuit of this goal. And the thing you’re rewarding doesn’t have to be looting in every game—but it should be something that isn’t intrinsically enjoyable or you’ll spoil it. Perhaps it doesn’t spoil it for you and others, and that’s fine, too. The research says that there’s a tendency for extrinsic reward to spoil your intrinsic enjoyment, however.

Robert said that that some people don’t find intrinsic pleasure in RP and that “extrinsic rewards give them an incentive to do something they wouldn’t otherwise do.” The original blog post has a whole paragraph dedicated to this:

In comparison, I always see role-playing reward mechanics recommended as a way to change how people play. You do it to make them role-play more. It’s a type of behavioral conditioning, a skinner box made to get your friends to behave the way you want. You shouldn’t need this. If you have a player who’s shy and doesn’t role-play much, why use a passive-aggressive rewards system to punish them for playing that way? If you dislike the way someone plays, why not just talk to them about it? Extrinsic rewards are just going to make them enjoy role-playing even less than they did in the first place. – Jack Mack

I think that’s exactly the problem I have when Robert explains that he teaches “within a system that has exam structures imposed on my class by the government, parents, the school management, etc. Within that framework, it is sometimes necessary to use extrinsic rewards to encourage students to develop skills and knowledge that are not valued by the system.” If I were sitting at his table, and he were offering me extrinsic rewards for something I wasn’t doing because of an intrinsic enjoyment I felt, then it starts to feel like work and school.

You might point out that my characters are looting for XP, so what’s the difference from role-playing for Artha? I think the concept of a game is important, here. We’ve come together to play a game and the game is about particular activities. These activities are driven by goals. Loot is a simple goal to work towards. In Burning Wheel, beliefs act a bit like individual goals. Sadly, when I encountered them, they were often not clear cut goals, but they certainly can be, and when they are, it works quite well. Using instincts to my disadvantage, using traits to drive the story in unforeseen directions, being funny, being the most valuable player, the work horse, and so on—these aren’t goals. At least, these aren’t goals in how I understand them. These aren’t goals that provide direction to my activities.

Tim said that these mechanical rewards for things that I don’t recognize as goals do motivate him to make disadvantageous decisions. I can’t argue against that. All I can say is that for me, the referee making failure interesting is the only thing I require. I don’t require a reward.

As to why I consider the use a trait to drive the story in unforeseen directions not being a goal that provides direction to your activities, the way I see it this: we come together, sit at the table, the last session we told the game master that we wanted to explore the Gnoll ruins. What will be looking for? Option 1 is “loot”. Option 2 seems to be “looking for a way to drive the story in unforeseen directions”? That doesn’t sound right. It looks like the difference between strategy and tactics. “Loot” or the belief “I’m going to kill the lord of Xitaqua” will tell the game master what we want to do, it’s about the big picture and it will give us a sense of accomplishment when we have done it. It will take a session. Me having the trait “Playful” and throwing some bones at the lions, possibly changing the course of the expedition is something that happens spontaneously, it changes the scene, it changes the story in unforeseen ways, it doesn’t give us a sense of accomplishment. (At least it wouldn’t do that for me?) “Loot” or a specific belief says what we want to accomplish. A trait might suggest a way of accomplishing said goal, or change how we’re accomplishing said goal, or complicate out attempt of accomplishing said goal. It will not tell us what said goal is, however.

Well, if anything, I don’t think I ever wrote that much on a Google+ thread. 🙂

AlexSchroeder 2014-07-07

I am going to respond to only one thing, your question about a sandbox. The way I see it (and this is just one point of view), in a sandbox game, the players are essentially “exploring” an unknown map. In some cases this is the literal act of mapping out unrevealed hexes on a map. In other cases it is finding out what is hidden in a particular wilderness hex. In other cases, it is the interaction with particular notable features on the map – like what do you do with that increasingly belligerent warren of kobolds, or the mysterious lone wizard in the mist-shrouded tower. I could see attaching XP rewards to all of these activities, if you really wanted a clearly laid out reward system – or you could play it by ear (not sure if I would want to give out XP for just exploring hexes, but I could see games where it would work). Dealing with the kobolds (slaying them, forcing them to leave, negotiating a treaty, defeating the chieftain and becoming the new kobold chief) might be worth a small XP reward, while exploring the lair of the legendary red dragon Ashfang (and slaying her / taking her treasure / appeasing her with sacrifices / becoming her agents) might be worth more. Bigger risk or more difficult task, higher reward, and so forth.

Now that I think about it, I think I am mostly reiterating what you said about exploring the gnoll ruins – the difference between what the goal is versus how we accomplish it in-game. I prefer rewards for the former, not the latter.

– Adrian 2014-07-07 18:31 UTC

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2013-09-30 Games on Demand für OerliCon

Ich war am Wochenende auf der OerliCon und habe einen Games on Demand Tisch angeboten.

Die Liste der Kandidaten für mein “Tagesmenü” war lang...

Eher unwahrscheinlich:

  • Montségur 1244 – religiöse Fundamentalisten sind dem Tode geweiht
  • My Life With Master – arme Knechte schuften für den Bösewicht, bis zur Rebellion
  • Fiasco – kaputte Typen auf dem Ritt in den Abgrund


Tipps von Jeremy Friesen auf G+:

I would recommend bringing a few games that you want to run. Provide a durable physical document that has a description of those games. This allows people to see what is happening. I would also make sure to note your schedule. If you can, recruit another GM or two (depending on how many players there might be).

Then be as visible as possible during the lead up and the day of. Use social media, especially the conventions Facebook page (if they have one). You will need to drum up that demand.

Make sure you have an elevator pitch handy for each game. People want to be sold on what thy’ll play.

Also, make sure that you have EVERYTHING that you need to get the game started immediately. Pre-made characters are best, 10 minutes or less for character creation is second best. Also dice, pencils, and paper.

I would also recommend being a very assertive GM regarding the rules. If you are playing Rules as Written, let the players know. But also work to build trust so you can make rulings during the game; Keep things moving at a good pace.

Ich werde mich also auf weniger Spiele beschränken und noch ein Blatt mit einer Kurzinformation zusammenstellen. Für die drei bis vier Spiele, die ich wirklich vorstelle, werde ich Beispielcharaktere bauen und mitnehmen.

Ich glaube meine Favoriten sind:

  • Lady Blackbird
  • Mountain Witch
  • In A Wicked Age
  • Western City


Erster Abend. Die A4 Zusammenfassung der vier Spiele hat keiner gefunden. Vielleicht war einfach zu viel Zeug auf dem Tisch. Wir haben eine lange Runde Lady Blackbird gespielt und es hat allen grossen Spass gemacht.

Zweiter Abend. Die Zusammenfassung wurde mehrmals gelesen und ich habe noch einmal eine lange Session Lady Blackbird und einmal The Mountain Witch geleitet. Ich habe viele, sehr nette Spieler kennengelernt. Lily, Evelyn, Fabienne, Fidel, Samuel, Oliver und alle jene, deren Name ich vergessen habe: Vielen Dank!

Ganz besonders cool fand ich, als Lilly und Evelyn mir ihr System der Heimkampagne vorstellten: M20 Purest Essence! Ich ihnen ganz stolz eine Kopie der deutschen M20 Übersetzung von Dirk Remmecke geschenkt, die er im Namen von Anime Virtual S. A. für die Role Play Convention (RPC) 2008 in Münster gemacht hatte.

Via Google+ wurde ich daran erinnert, dass es eine deutsche Übersetzung von Lady Blackbird gibt. Wenn ich das nur vor dem Con schon gewusst hätte. Noch peinlicher: als ich die deutsche Version abspeichern wollte, musste ich erkennen, dass ich diese schon hatte. Oje. Ich hoffe, meine geplagten Spieler können es mir verzeihen. :)

Was nicht so gut funktioniert hat, aber anscheinend niemanden gestört hat: Das Einschreiben hat nicht wirklich funktioniert, weil die Spielzeiten auf der OerliCon nicht koordiniert werden. Deswegen haben Pascal, der sich vor Ort eingeschrieben hat, oder Carlo, der immer wieder mal vorbeigeschaut hat, beide doch nie einen Platz gefunden. Meine zweite Lady Blackbird Runde habe ich deswegen gnadenlos überzogen, statt wie sonst üblich auf ein Ende innert drei Stunden hinzuarbeiten.

Was für mich gut funktioniert hat: Am Freitag gegen Mitternacht heimgehen, im eigenen Bett schlafen, und am Samstag erst gegen elf wieder dort sein: viele, die dort geblieben sind, haben bis um sechs in der Früh gespielt. Von früh aufstehen konnte keine Rede sein.

Ebenfalls gut funktioniert haben die Visitenkarten, welche ich immer mit auslege. Vielleicht werden nur zwei oder drei mitgenommen, aber als einer der Spieler sagte, er suche eine neue Gruppe, habe ich sofort eine Visitenkarte zücken können. Irgendwie Schade: Selber habe ich weder Fotos gemacht noch Facebook, Twitter oder Google+ Freunde gewonnen, noch Email Adressen ausgetauscht. Daran muss ich das nächste Mal einfach denken.

Ebenfalls gut: einen grossen Beutel mit Bleistiften, Radiergummis und Würfeln für alle am Tisch und Papier zur freien Verwendung. Ich habe allerdings viel zu viel Papier mit geschleppt.


Das nächste Mal sollte ich weniger Dinge mit nehmen. Wenn die Leute etwas in die Hand genommen haben, dann waren es die gut aussehenden Produkte. Vor allem Mouse Guard war ein Blickfang, weil viele die Comics kannten.

Für das nächste Mal also:

  • wie dieses mal eine deutsche Zusammenfassung der vorgestellten Bilder
  • einen grossen Beutel mit Bleistiften, Radiergummis und Würfeln, Notizpapier
  • klare vier Stunden Blöcke ankündigen, separate Anmeldung und immer ein Auge auf die Uhr
  • eine deutsche Übersetzung von Lady Blackbird mit nehmen
  • The Mountain Witch wieder mit nehmen (cool wären deutsche Charakterblätter mit den chinesischen Tierkreiszeichen)
  • Mouse Guard wieder mitnehmen und ein kleines Abenteuer mitnehmen (mit deutschen Charaketerblättern wäre gut)


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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!


Comments on 2011-08-23 Lady Blackbird

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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