Monday, April 23, 2012

The Warlock's Review: "Lady Blackbird: Tales From the Wild Blue Yonder" (Actual Play)

"What's this?" you say!  Another review, so soon after the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying review?  You bet your sweet bippy, fellow gamers.  It's been a busy time out here, but we've still managed to sling some dice together, even outside of our normal Friday night Deadlands group.

Pages from Lady Blackbird:  Tales From the Wild Blue Yonder
Truth be told, I've been aching to run Lady Blackbird:  Tales From the Wild Blue Yonder for quite a while.  DigitalKat turned me onto this little freebie a few months ago, but while in the midst of our extended foray in The Flood, I hadn't found the right time or situation to throw down Lady Blackbird

Did I say "freebie"?  You bet I did.  You see, friends and neighbors, that's the big selling point:  this one is absolutely freeOneSeven Design, the creators of Lady Blackbird, put this one out completely free, publishing the module under the Creative Commons Licence, along with several other pieces such as The Mustang and Ghost/Echo.  And, before I continue--go download these.  They're all well worth your time, even if you never run them, though I heartily encourage you to do so!

Lady Blackbird falls into that nebulous category of "story games," providing a minimalist approach to mechanics in favor an emphasis on flexibility and creativity for both players and gamemasters.  While the GM never rolls dice--similar to ICONS, rules as written--the players use a simple d6-based dice pool system to determine success or failure.  Start with one die; add another if you have a "trait" that is applicable, then an additional die for each "tag" under that trait that might help you.  If that's not enough dice for you, add from your personal pool.  A die roll of 4-6 succeeds, while 1-3 fails.  Get enough successes and you succeed.  However, failure is enouraged as well, as it returns dice to your personal pool, at the cost of allowing the GM to add in complications for your character. 

The neat thing about Lady Blackbird is that it never plays the same way twice.  When DigitalKat described her run-through, she riffed significantly off of Joss Whedon's Firefly, playing up the two-fisted action.  However, as the descriptions are intentionally left vague, my group took something of a different route.  Beginning in the brig of the Imperial warship "Hand of Sorrow", our group took a "Steampunk Star Wars" vibe from the game, facing off against foes with "phlogiston blades" and "repeating percussion cap" pistols.  Making their way down through the ship's decks, my group evaded and fought their way through waves of Imperial guards, trying to find their way back their ship, "The Owl."

The Owl--our heroes' noble skyship
Natually, in a high adventure vibe, our adventure ended with a confrontation with the Hand of Sorrow's captain and his guardsmen amongst the whistling, open decks of the docking bays of the ship.  Running for their lives, our crew managed to defeat the captain, clamber aboard The Owl, and sail off into the Ether before the Hand of Sorrow could pursue.

What really impressed me most from Lady Blackbird was the transparency of the system.  My players regularly took choices that were "non-optimized", simply because they were available as options and were fitting with their interpretations of the characters.  And, because the dice mechanic was so simplistic, the players focused more on describing their actions and building the over-the-top mayhem.

Really, I can't recommend Lady Blackbird highly enough.  If you want a great introduction to story-based or rules-light gaming, give it a run.  Even if you don't, check out OneSeven Design's numerous other modules.  You'll absolutely find some inspiration there!


  1. Over the summer I'm running a "steampunk mystery" campaign using the Lady Blackbird Companion and a rather transparent copy of London from the Victoriana books. Should be fun!

  2. Oooh! :D

    If only you were back in Ohio...