Lady Blackbird first session

Hi! A week and a half ago, I ran a game of Lady Blackbird for a group of friends. I have essentially zero experience with DMing any game, and they had never done any kind of role-playing, and I was quite nervous to do a good job and for them to have a good time, but it went pretty smoothly.

Let's see. The story starts with our heroes in the brig. They try to talk the guard into getting close so they can whack him and get the keys, but he doesn't seem to buy it. They try to pick the locks they're tied in but they don't manage it. Snargle the goblin figures out that he can change shape and he shrinks out of the restraints, which freaks out the guard so he runs off to get help. Eventually Naomi Bishop figures she can use Secret of Destruction and they smash through their restraints. They break free and get back to the Owl, which is only guarded by one older dog. They clamber aboard and they manage to take off. However, unbeknownst to them, they're being tracked because a tracking device was placed on their ship! (My players didn't have an idea of how player knowledge might be separate from character knowledge, so they all knew this immediately.) The Owl sets in at Haven, and Snargle and Naomi Bishop go out carousing. As soon as they get back, the ship shuts down! The tracking device is also a remote control! The Empire has followed them covertly and is going to tow them back to Imperial space. But by sabotaging their own ship (!), they get the attention of the Haven authorities, and the Empire has to flee before they cause a diplomatic incident.

The Owl makes it to Nightport and they set about trying to find a way to Uriah Flint. But they get ambushed by bounty hunters and some of the crew are captured! Snargle manages to escape and alert Kale Arkham, and they manage to sneak into the bounty hunter's base and free the rest of the crew. Lady Blackbird tries to cast a spell to hide the group, but it backfires and the room catches fire. But the crew decide to climb out a window and they escape while the bounty hunters are busy trying to fight the fire in their clubhouse.

This is about the three-hour mark, so we start to try wrapping up. Unfortunately, the players haven't hit their keys enough (really!) to get enough XP to learn the Secret of the True Course, so instead they have to pay a ton of money to get an escort. They get to Uriah Flint the pirate king, and it turns out he's already married! But no hard feelings. He offers them positions among his pirate fleet, but they decide they'd rather be free. Everyone shakes hands and parts ways amicably. The End!

Hiccups: I didn't realize you could add a die for traits at first and we made a few bad rolls based on my misunderstanding. I had some trouble coming up with ideas for what to do when a die roll failed -- the rules say "The GM will escalate the situation in some way", but I didn't really know what that meant exactly. (I happened to stumble upon this fascinating thread while trying to figure it out, and spent a lot of time reading it before realizing it was talking about something else.) We jumped right into play, but I wished I had emphasized the character's keys and given everyone a few minutes to think through the implications of their own, because the players had a bit of a hard time finding their characters or even identifying their characters at all. (I asked the Lady Blackbird player where she had met the Captain, who according to the character sheets had been chartered to bring Lady Blackbird to the Pirate King. "Uhh... at a Wal-Mart?") Sometimes the players would whiff a couple rolls on a situation that seemed "obvious" -- Kale Arkham the burglar would fail to pick the locks he was stuck in, and the lock would jam! and then they would try to distract the guard, but he wouldn't buy it! and then they'd do something else, and then the guard would run off to sound the alarm! -- and the players would struggle to come up with some other approach that they hadn't tried, and I'd struggle to figure out how to keep things moving once the scene had stalled out or how to help the players get out of the mess. I'm not really sure how the "secrets" work -- Naomi's Secret of Destruction, does that even take a roll? or does it just happen? Same for Snargle's change shape. Are they really "Secrets"? Do they need to be hidden from NPCs or the other players? Does "Warpblood" let someone teleport a bunch of people all at once, or just one? Also, what does "Stormblood" mean? I guess I should have let the group come up with a definition, but based on the tags, I didn't think it should allow healing magic.

Successes: I was really astonished how clever the players were with coming up with interesting situations. The Captain player invented out of whole cloth the idea that the Empire had stuck a tracking device on the Owl. Later, the same player came up with the idea of bounty hunters getting a drop on the crew in Nightport. I handed the characters out randomly, but by chance Lady Blackbird fell on a player who is a little less outspoken, which worked great because the character is so important that it kind of pushed the player into a bit more central role. The Snargle player really got into being comic relief. The rules are great, simple and easy to jump into, which was perfect (the player for the Lady Blackbird character is kind of allergic to rules explanations).

Overall I felt like the whole experience was a success. Lots of stuff was ad-hoc, and I still feel a little bit too unconstrained, less like a game and more like a writer's workshop, but everyone seemed to have a good time.

Lady Blackbird was a great first game! The world and the premade characters are super evocative and made it really easy to jump in and start playing. My players want to do it again sometime. We can keep going on Lady Blackbird, or maybe we should try again with another game now that we have a clearer idea of how to run a game. Any suggestions? I found Death School, and it seems like Fiasco would be good practice.


  • Nice. I have no advice yet.
  • Lasers & Feelings is my goto game for newbies nowadays, though they might find it a bit too sparse on the mechanics after LB. In the olden times, I used to have a lot of success with InSpectres, which is also a great beginner game.

    And yeah, the prison thing is always a challenge when it comes to finding ways to escalate the situation. I'd get them out of it whether they succeed or fail, just that it's either on their own terms or escorted off to some other place (dinner with the admiral, torture chamber, whatever fits the situation).
  • I really enjoyed playing the initial scenario of Lady Blackbird, escaping from the prison and everything.

    When we tried to continue the game from there, though, it quickly fell apart. I didn't feel like the game provided any support for a GM trying to run the game after that first session. What comes next? I don't know, and the game didn't help figure that out.

    I know other people who kept the game going and had a long, successful campaign, though. So results may vary.
  • Try telling us more about yourself - your tastes in media, specifically - and the people you're playing with! It's usually easier to get a flood of recommendations of favorite games going than to parse it and process it.
  • Oh, "Secret" in Lady Blackbird is legacy language from the game(s) The Shadow of Yesterday/Solar System. It's supposed to mean "something only you can do, because other people don't know how to", like a secret ninja trick. That's about as much as I know.

    Finding ways of escalating a situation on a failure without stalling the scene is a basic difficulty of GMing games. While it's a learned skill, even grizzled veterans sometimes have a hard time with that - there's nobody who can always and reliably pull that out with ease.
  • Seems like everyone enjoyed the game. So cool! I liked the tracking device thing and also the sabotaging our own ship stuff.

    Jedi Blackbird is an unofficial Star Wars hack and its great! You would probably like it.
  • I have no brilliant suggestions for "What game to move to next, after Lady Blackbird?" but I'd LOVE to hear other people's ideas please!
  • I love this game! My experience running it in a forum is here.
  • I think there are many other games to suggest, but it depends a great deal on the OP's preferences and interests. The Shadow of Yesterday, John Harper's other games, and my own "Eowyn game" (which you can find here) all share design features.

    I suppose we'll to have wait and see if the OP ever returns before making more pointed recommendations!
  • Several years ago I was introduced to Lady Blackbird through a brilliant superhero hack by @James_Stuart (I’m still hoping he will publish it one day!).
  • Hi, sorry for disappearing like that. I hit a busy spot at work. At first I was waiting for a response from my players about what kinds of media they wanted to admit to liking. I only got one response: "I like mostly sci-fi and fantasy like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Harry Potter, Fringe, Humans, Orphan Black, X-Men, Battlestar Galactica, Dr. Who, Firefly, Star Wars, the occasional anime classic like Sailor Moon, Card Captor Sakura, and Fushigi Yuugi." To this I'd add my personal interests such as Babylon 5, Philip K. Dick, and Diane Duane's Young Wizards series.

    Thanks for the suggestions of the other games in the series, as well as Lasers and Feelings and InSpectres, which I'd never heard of. I found a PDF somewhere online of Shadow of Yesterday and got the impression that it was somewhat more open-ended, like a "classic" RPG where the GM comes up with the scenario, whereas part of the draw of Lady Blackbird was that everyone already had a character and a scenario with a lot of "built-in" tensions. Thanks @Paul_T for mentioning your Eowyn game -- I'm not quite as into the LOTR legendarium so I think I'll skip this one.
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