Playing Lady Blackbird

edited April 2009 in Actual Play
We played last night. That was damned fun. Every character was taken but Snargle, who I NPC'ed as a rather comical shape-shifting wookie.

Refresh Scenes and Uriah Flint

The first scenes, escaping from the brig on the Hand of Sorrow, I could feel everyone trying to figure out their pasts, their current relationships.

So, after a bunch of them had spent some of their pools and had some Conditions, we did our first refresh scene. I kind of took control of them a bit. In TSoY, we have pools to give the refresh scenes a baseline. So, I suggested that we make refresh scenes flashbacks and it worked wonderfully. Having refresh scenes after big action pieces really gave the game a nice kind of structure that felt really solid.

The first refresh scene was how they all met, with them all together in a bar in Ilysium, Lady Blackbird hiring the crew to take her to the Remnants. It was fun.

The second refresh scene was how every person involved met Uriah Flint, which was really solid. Jeff was playing Lady Blackbird and I started to frame a scene of how Uriah first seduced the 16 year old lady but that was pretty flat (unless watching me RP a pirate trying to seduce Jeff is sexy to you) but the scene that was interesting was Uriah convincing the girl that he should ransom her back to her father and that he'd come back to get her.

I had to make a private decision about Uriah and honestly, though the game was fun, I made the wrong one. I made the decision that he was a mercenary bastard who didn't care about her. That was a dull decision and it made the end of the game rather flat.

I'd rather he was a mercenary bastard who really did love her but didn't think the pirate life would be good for her and more importantly that he didn't feel he was good enough for her. But here she is, having made it to the remnants on her own steam and coin, right in his face, proving him wrong. Now what?

That is where its at.

More on the dice and such later.

Next to write about:

My Pre-Game Solar System XP Speech

Conditions and Mechanics



  • edited April 2009
    My Pre-Game Solar System XP Speech

    After explaining how the keys work and what they get XP for doing:

    "Here's the pattern I see with games that use Keys. At first the players who are new to it ask for permission. Then they kind of try to make eye contact or ask if they think their key was hit while their hand makes its way towards the XP. And after about three scenes, they just take XP. Some folks take them after each scene, others take it as soon as something comes up, either way is fine. Honestly, just take it; having to deal with XP is one less thing I have to do as GM and I can concentrate on other things.

    "You are not cheating by taking XP; just take it when you hit a key and you'll know. If you aren't sure, feel free to ask us."
  • Bangs:

    - The players are waiting for Snargle to get back from effing up the Hand of Sorrow's wireless and they are watching a guard smoking next to their ship, tossing cigarettes into the owl's open windows. When they seem to be sitting tight, I have a relief guard come up and mention that they now know that the ship is Vance's and the Captain is on his way down to the brig to torture the pirate.

    - In Nightport, they saw the bawdy play, The Seduction of Lady Blackbird (it has been EIGHT years; her fling with Flint is now legend) and we see Flint have sex with the Lady and then a woman in every port in the solar system and then a finale with ALL of them at once. Lady Blackbird had some words with Alice Keel, the "actress" who played her in the play and was allegedly, Flint's Nightport wife.

    Turns out, the play was quite different than the opera of the same name that played for so many years in Ilysium.

    - Bishop notices that a ship captain has a slaver's tattoo. The former pit fighter beat the man bloody and ripped his jaw bone out of his head with her hands. There was a great line that Colleen delivered here that I can't recall.

    More bangs later

    I'd like to write more later about how the Owl is the most treasured character in the game and should have its own character sheet.
  • Judd, this is so great. I am beaming over here.

    As I said to you in chat, I LOVE your bangs. That right there is how it is done. The guy tossing cigarettes is so good. Were they more upset about the asshole disrespecting the Owl, or the Captain being tortured? I'm betting it was about 50/50, and that's being generous to Vance.

    I am definitely using the bawdy play and the slaver tattoo guy in my game. Also, the refresh scene flashback where Lady Blackbird hires the Owl. Thats gold.

    How long was your session? Do you have a rough idea of how much XP/advances there were?
  • Posted By: John Harper

    How long was your session? Do you have a rough idea of how much XP/advances there were?
    Thanks, John.

    The session was around 3 or 4 hours long. It felt like a con-length to me. The scene framing was fairly aggressive, in that I didn't give lots of time for meandering travel scenes.

    No idea how many advances. I really didn't keep track. I'd imagine it was around one advance per person or so, maybe a little more for some.

    I want to write more but I want to get some schoolwork done yet tonight.

    More later...
  • Conditions and Mechanics

    When I first saw conditions, I thought that I would take away dice from what they rolled if they had a condition that would be getting in their way. I didn't do that in practice.

    Instead I just added to the obstacle. Since there are only five possible, that is a pretty big deal.

    "This would just be a 3 but you have that head wound and your eyes can't quite focus, so you need 4 successses to pull this off."
  • Yeah, that's how I think of conditions, too. Also, maybe asking for a roll for something that you wouldn't otherwise.

    "I just ignore him and walk away."
    "Well, since you're Angry, maybe it's not that easy. Let's roll to see if you can keep your cool."
  • edited April 2009
    You could also use Conditions like "Spirit of the Century"-like Compels, e.g. if you're Angry the GM won't let you walk away unless you surrender a Pool die, but if you do stay, you earn an extra Pool die. I liked those rules from Spirit of the Century, but they might complicate Lady Blackbird too much because they are similar to the existing rules for Keys

    ... unless Conditions are Keys (imposed by the GM). Imagine that the Angry Condition is treated like a "Key of Anger": if your character is Angry and you play angry, you can earn XP/etc just like hitting a regular Key. With "Condition Keys", the rules would have fewer special cases and Conditions have well-defined mechanical effects. This introduces interesting game play: players might be tempted postpone refreshment scenes because they don't want to lose a Condition! (Assuming refreshment scenes required a Condition be cleared.) >:)
  • edited April 2009
    Chris: I am intrigued by your ideas and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

    Conditions as temporary Keys... very cool.
  • edited April 2009
    thanks. I still think characters should start each game session inflicted with a Condition (of their choice) ... but you're the game designer, so I concede to your vision. <:)
  • Posted By: Chris Petersonthanks. I still think characters should start each game session inflicted with a Condition (of their choice) ... but you're the game designer, so I concede to your vision. <:)</blockquote>


    Where do you come up with these things, Chris?
  • Don't concede! What the hell do I know, anyway?
  • In one way, starting the player out with a condition will mean they'll have to look for a decent refresh scene - it might a good way to get them aware and alert about how that works from the start already. It might feed back into more to do in game. It might make tham unneccesarily cautious as well. It's like everything else; just try it! I'm sure it could be cool.

    Conditions as keys sounded really cool as well!
  • In MG, conditions have to be fixed in order, which is kinda a big thing. That would make sense for the Owl's conditions, definitely, but I'm not sure about the rest.
  • Very cool, Chris. I like this idea a lot.

    Conditions as Keys or Aspects opens up the possible universe of Conditions without a lot of complication. Why limit yourself? Add Intrigued, Ashamed, Ostracized, Attracted, or whatever the circumstances demand. Players have more control over the Condition if it operates only as a Key, but I like the notion of a Compel. It's not like you have to have only one or the other. A Condition could operate like a Key that permits the occasional Compel.
  • For days I've had the notion of the condition Enamoured floating around in my head, thinking it'd be totally redundant. With this it fits like a glove.
  • edited April 2009
    In this form, Compels and Key hits are basically the same thing.

    Player: "I'm Enamored, so I follow her without question into the dark room." (takes XP or die)

    GM: "You're Enamored, right? So maybe you follow her into the dark room without a lot of questions?" (holds out XP or die)

  • Keys and Aspects have always been basically the same thing, yeah? Or am I missing something?

    Player: "I'm Enamored but also Dead, so I think the next scene should be my soul trying to fight its way out of hell to come back to her. That should earn me loads of XP."
  • The only issue I see with doing Conditions as Keys is that when you buy them off you get two advances. It seems you could powergame that a bit.
  • Jonathan: Yes. Nice Ben Lehman impersonation, btw. :-)

    Tim: True. You shouldn't get advances for healing a condition.
  • edited April 2009
    Sorry, I'll try to keep my snarky "why do you keep saying things I've been secretly thinking without telling anybody?!" in check :)

    Honestly, I've never really liked getting XP for buying off Keys. I think the reward for buying off Keys is that you can get new Keys that are more likely to give you XP than the old Keys that are no longer appropriate (and therefore harder to hit). Do players really need an additional incentive? I think the Buyoff for any Key should basically be "find another Key to replace it with" and if Keys and Aspects are basically the same thing, finding a new Key is dead simple.

    So, like, if my Key/Condition/Aspect is Dead and I want to buy it off, I have to both 1) not be Dead anymore, in the fiction, and 2) find a new Key/Condition/Aspect to replace Dead. Maybe I get some alchemist to cobble together a new body for me made of decomposing pieces of corpses and mad steampunk science. So I pick a new Key/Condition/Aspect that's like Thing That Should Not Be.

    In this spirit, what if Conditions are temporary Keys/Aspects that replace some of the character's Keys/Aspects until they are bought off. So maybe I'm normally really dashing or something, but I'm injured or scarred or become infatuated with Lady Blackbird and keep making a fool of myself (and get XP for roleplaying those). But when I eventually buy off that Condition, I can return to being dashing, if I like. Or maybe, if I choose not to buy off the Condition, I just allow the character to be permanently changed by it. Perhaps my infatuation with Lady Blackbird has altered me, so I'm no longer the womanizing rogue I was before. In this way, Conditions aren't punishment or additional Keys but, uh, more like character development. Maybe you should call them something besides Conditions, though. Just another option, maybe not appropriate for all games.

    P.S. In one hack I was working on, the monsters were basically this kind of "condition"; they were things that you must describe terrorizing your character and the Buyoff was a certain number of scenes/actions that your character must endure the monsters before escaping/killing them. So these "conditions" could even be measured numerically. If I have Dead 5 that could mean I have to hit the Key/Aspect/Condition "Dead" five times (for 5 XP) before the Buyoff (maybe that is the Buyoff or maybe that's just a minimum and I still have to complete the Buyoff requirements).
  • Very cool. I dig that whole line of thinking. I'm pondering how much (if any) applies to Lady Blackbird, but it's a serious ponder, with a notebook and pen and everything. I have idears.

    I wonder if Judd wants us to shut up and go back to talking about real AP though. Here, I'll do it:

    Judd! Can you say more about how everyone got all protective over The Owl? You hinted at that before (which is why I added a condition tracker).
  • This is awesome.

    I thought of having Conditions be aspects, actually but tossed the idea out. I'm becoming talked back into it, actually. Being hurt as a method of getting whatever-points is kinda neat.

    More on the Owl as a beloved character tomorrow.
  • Posted By: Jonathan WaltonSo, like, if my Key/Condition/Aspect isDeadand I want to buy it off, I have to both 1) not be Dead anymore, in the fiction, and 2) find a new Key/Condition/Aspect to replace Dead. Maybe I get some alchemist to cobble together a new body for me made of decomposing pieces of corpses and mad steampunk science. So I pick a new Key/Condition/Aspect that's likeThing That Should Not Be.
    Oh my God. You just blew my mind, dammit!
  • edited April 2009
    More bangs:

    - The charts Kale stole from the Hand of Sorrow turned out to show two key things of interest:
    1. The locations of the Imperial refueling platforms in the area (servicing long-range patrol craft like the Hand).
    2. A special coded chart, showing the route of the next Trade Union treasury courier vessel. The Trade Union treasury courier is a semi-mythical heist job that pirates talk about -- kind of like robbing Caesar's Palace in Vegas.

    - While trying to bribe one of the Imperials to not look too closely at their ship, Kale learns about the 50,000 crown bounty out on Captain Vance (the Imperial has the wanted papers in with his other documents).

    - Not a bang exactly, but when they ran The Owl into the lower depths to evade the Imperial guns, I introduced the concept of depth charges. This created a certain unease. :-)
  • Actually, I think the depth charges were certainly A bang, just no that kind of bang.
  • Nice fucking bangs, John. Sheee-it.

    I love the idea of depth charges dropped into the lower depths. That'll wake up the Sky Squid, that is for sure.
  • So how does gravity work out in the Blue...what makes the heavier toxic stuff sink to the deeps...?
  • edited April 2009
    We talked a bit about gravity in the last game. There were lots of ideas, but it boiled down to: It works however you want it to.

    But here's the Wild Blue elevation view:

    [----------------- The Upper Air [too thin to fly] ----------|---------]
    [----------------- The Blue [worlds at this level] ----------|---------]
    [-------------------------- The Lower Depths ----------------v---------]

    Gravity pulls towards the depths. It also pulls toward the star, we decided, just to make sure that any physics nuts would shut up. The world clearly does not fit in to science as we understand it, and it aggressively isn't supposed to.
  • edited April 2009
    How big do you envision the worlds being? The text says "shattered worlds" or something. Are they like asteroids? The size of the moon? Full-sized earths?

    Also, what about worlds up in the thin air? You could strap on your air tanks and goggles, and go exploring ancient civilizations that died out when their world was hurtled into the nigh-unbreathable Outer Reaches!
  • John brought up the law of gas masks last night ("Any game is better with some element that leads to gas mask wearing") so I'm all for 'lighter' ancient worlds in The Upper Air, only reachable by highly advanced machines (or magic). I guess the same goes for worlds that 'sunk' to The Lower Depths.

    The possibility of Imperial fuel having some special properties (and perhaps having those properties from an unsavory source) entered the game last night, I think I'd tie that to some of these lost worlds somehow. Then again, I think my favorite part of playing and reading the APs has been hearing about all the takes on this world, so I'm not big on filling in details.
  • Wow, that division makes for some potent sky geography and lost civilization material, way more compelling for me than the undifferentiated skies of Do and S7S. Fuck, John, I was going to use Lady Blackbird as a model for product design, but now I'm hankering to actually play the thing. It actually makes me ponder how setting material generated for the needs of a specific campaign is almost always more interesting than general setting material generated for hypothetical campaigns that may or may not someday be played by other people. Another advantage of this format, I think.
  • I like the theory that if you could just make it all the way through The Lower Depths, on the other side is Another Blue, ripe for adventure! Scholars may call this theory mad, only because no one has so far returned from testing it!

    Also, people who like adventures in the sky should seek out Karl Schroeder's Virga novels: Sun of Suns, Queen of Candesce, etc. Pirate suns!
  • I like the idea that the downward gravity is caused by the whole "flat" sky system orbiting around the edge of a black hole.

    Go all the way through the Lower Depths and witness the ultimate end of your world...briefly...before being stretched to infinity as you get sucked past the event horizon.

    I like the idea of some savage group living in a rock deep in the depths and using some kind of catapult device to launch human sacrifices into the a Joe vs. the Volcano thing
  • did someone mention the video game Skies of Arcadia in the other thread? i feel like i'm echoing a previously voiced sentiment by saying this reminds me of that. I always like the way there was weird stuff in the extreme depths and heights of the world. That and the "sky fish" always made it seem like you were basically in an oceanic world with no water. Or something.

    Hmm... I've been reading these threads with interest, but so far I haven't actually read the pdf. I should do that.
  • Posted By: Jonathan WaltonSo, like, if my Key/Condition/Aspect isDeadand I want to buy it off, I have to both 1) not be Dead anymore, in the fiction, and 2) find a new Key/Condition/Aspect to replace Dead. Maybe I get some alchemist to cobble together a new body for me made of decomposing pieces of corpses and mad steampunk science. So I pick a new Key/Condition/Aspect that's likeThing That Should Not Be.
    Man, you know what I'm thinking? I'm thinking that's the center of a fuckin' resolution mechanic, right there. As in, "You can accomplish any action that is either A) made possible by a Key/Condition/Aspect/whatever, or B) a Key/etc. Buyoff." In a sort of Puppetland kinda way.
  • Yep, Skies of Arcadia is one of my favorite games and was a big influence. Reiko Kodama gets mentioned in the credits.
  • Posted By: John HarperYep,Skies of Arcadiais one of my favorite games and was a big influence.
    Awesome! I think I got rid of my GameCube copy of that game. I should try to reacquire it. The only thing i really didn't like were the all too frequent random encounters while flying through the world. But that has nothing to do with this thread, so I should shut my yap. Shut it and go read the Lady Blackbird pdf finally.
  • edited April 2009
    The PDF has been updated a few times recently. You can always find the most recent one at this link.

    (Characters have a new condition box: Hunted)
  • edited April 2009
    Sharp-eyed komradebob asked if the Owl got a weapon upgrade in the new draft. It did, indeed. One of my players is a WWII buff and suggested the 37mm as a better ship-to-ship grade gun. Plus I like the idea of huge brass shell casings clattering around.
  • Heh...We just thought you meant to give it a machine-gun, which lead to some funnies as we sawed our way through the lines gangplank The Owl was lashed to.
  • Hmmm. Now that I think about it, maybe I'll be more vague about the gun so each group can color it up how they want. Something like "Top-mounted gun turret" maybe.
  • If you wouldn't mind putting a date in the file name each time, it would help us to know whether we have the latest version. Difficult to tell without downloading and looking at it closely.
  • edited April 2009
    Don't pay any attention, John; He just doesn't want us to have a proper cannon next Sunday! ;-)

    ( Besides, a 37mm gun might knock out something like a Pz II-III, but it won't do much more than pop some rivets and mess up the paintjob on a battle-wagon like the Hand of Sorrow!)
  • Posted By: Caesar_XIf you wouldn't mind putting a date in the file name each time, it would help us to know whether we have the latest version. Difficult to tell without downloading and looking at it closely.
    +1 for version numbers or dates!
  • The new version has the date at the bottom of the first page. 4/22/09 is the current draft.

    The addition of Hunted and the change to the Owl gun are the only changes.
  • Lady Blackbird edition wars!

    "This new version of Lady Blackbird just doesn't -feel- like Lady Blackbird to me."
  • "Are you playing a May version?! You're like soooo out of it, man. I only use April stuff. Power creep, y'know."
  • "The 37mm cannon is obviously truest to the original vision."
  • "Back when I played, the rules and characters were on separate sheets, it was black and white, and we just made up the Blue as we went! You youngsters with your Hunted condition! Get off my floating space rock lawn!"
  • So, late in our game, the players were set to make their way through the Remnants to find Uriah. I told them it was a 5 obstacle test, as much of my BW vocab made its way out at the table.

    It failed. I described the Owl wrecked on a sizable asteroid. Everyone went pale. Matt described how Kale was trying to put the ship back together, even though it was totally wrecked, trying to build something out of nothing. The captain began yelling at Lady Blackbird for being a silly girl to think that Uriah would wait 8 years for her.

    Paula looked at her character sheet and saw her Secret that gave her a re-roll. She asked if it was kosher. I said it was.

    She re-rolled and made it.

    Everyone sighed.

    The Millenium Falcon, Serenity, Galactica, the ships are the most beloved characters. The Owl is no different.

    Honestly, after that, the final meet-up with Uriah was anti-climactic.
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