Thursday, June 03, 2010

AP: Lady Blackbird (Part One)

Lady Blackbird is a stand-alone pdf produced game by John Harper. You can find it here -

This was our first midweek game for ages, so it was a bit of a watershed. Turned out to be a good evening all round.


Nigel as Captain Cyrus Vance
Ben as Lady Blackbird
Andrew as Snargle
Dave as Naomi

Scene One

The characters are deep within the damp, rusting detention cell of the Hand of Sorrow, with Naomi chained to the wall by her slave-control pegs in-built into her collar bones, suffering as a result of a prior beating. (Narrated by Dave, showing his inner masochist). Snargle tries to aid the bodyguard but fails and only makes matters worse. He is ordered by the Captain to open the door but fails at that too and attracts the attention of a burly, heavily armed Imperial marine. Blackbird takes the lead and entrances the marine into changing her cell as she wasn't really supposed to be on The Owl and there has all been a terrible mistake. When he comes to take her to his private chamber she waits for the door to be opened and then unleashes magical hell, frying the two marines. The crew escape after cutting down Naomi, and Snargle makes amends for the earlier failures by successfully mimicing the guards to put the ships Captain off the scent. In the background of the transmission however, he hears someone talking about a spike in thaumaturgical energy in the detention levels and the alarms sound.

The crew try to find their way through the ship to the Armoury, but Vance has never been on one of these Mark Seven cruisers and ends up leading them to the gym. Desperate for a distraction, he uses his Warpblood power to teleport Snargle to the engine rooms... Meanwhile, Naomi tires of his incompetence and hoists him from the ground, threatening him if he doesn't know where to go. At that moment the marines arrive and she throws the Captain at them. [I ruled that his Warpblooded Secret should also allow him a little bit of bullet-time action] and he flies through the air shooting the marines to bits. Awesome.

Snargle, on the other hand, is in the highly corrosive atmosphere of a battlecruiser engine room. The ships use the gases of the Lower Regions to fire the fluids which power the engine turbines and he has to get into a saftey suit or it will kill him. He fails and finds himself desperately trying to break the engines before he passes out. He succeeds in not only stalling the engines but also taking out the ship's main power, sending in plumeting deep down into the corrosive gases of the Lower Depths. Claxons wail, warning tannoys announce falling hull integrity and it all goes very submarine drama!

The crew reunite on the hangar deck where they see their ship and an Imperial shuttle being prepped. The shuttle turns out to be for a House Twilight sorceror who appears (He was the voice on the bridge) and recognises Blackbird immediately. He fires some 'black stuff' at her which Naomi intercepts, taking the magical bullet and falling (presumed) dead. They bundle her on board and make to start the engines .... but they are out of fuel! Snargle reckons they can slide out of the bay if the ship angles down enough and then use the gases to jump start the engines. The ship does angle down more ... as a Sky Squid attacks! The ship falls from the bay, the engines start and the ship flies away to be met by more Squid. It turns tale, flies through a cloud of squid ink, back at the battlecruiser leading the other squid to the larger prey. Succeeding, the Owl erupts into the clean pseudo-atmosphere of the Wild Blue and makes its way to Haven.

Refreshment Scenes

Blackbird casts her mind back to her magical training and what she knows about House Twilight. They are a nasty bunch and the black stuff (it was described as carboniting in the blood) was the way they created their ghouls, which they mind controlled. To have it removed would require the attentions of another House Twilight member and Cyrus knew one on Haven... [Naomi was deemed to be able to move around now and was no longer presumed dead... she was just Vulnerable]

Cyrus had his own flashback scene to his time during the Navy and noted that Captain Hollas of the Hand of Sorrow was a lieutenant at the same time as he was and they were both involved in the rebellion which presuaded Vance that the Imperial way was not for him.

Snargle flashed back that he was once in slavery himself and that the former Pirate King (the one that Uriah deposed) had bought his death mark and now used him as an agent. He now lived in Haven and he would have to deliver some illict cargo to him.

Scene Two

Arriving at the planet of Haven, the crew descended past the yachts,merchant vessels and refuelling dirgibles to hit the sprawling city.

Snargle went to see his former master, named Lord Adonis, and arrived just to overhear three bounty hunters (an ex-Imperial marine, a robot and a gene-engineered snake woman) being offered a 50k credit price on Vance;s head. After they had gone, he tried to negotiate his future discovery - and betrayal - of Uriah's location in the Remnants as a price for the release of his death mark. The (former) Pirate Lord suggested that Snargle take a magical tracker beacon, which would plot the route through the Remnants and allow him to lead his fleet against Uriah. If he succeeded and survived the onslaught from the Pirate fleets broadsides, he could have his death mark back. A shit bargain, but one that Snargle took. Now he had to get back as soon as possible to tell his friends of the bounty hunters.

Back at the inevitable bar-cum-pleasure palace, Vance meets with an informant (a Goblin called Fraggle) who works as a courier for the Trades Union but formerly was smuggled out of Ilysium by Vance. He pays him to set up a meeting between them and the renegade House Twilight mage, Nicodemus Retch. They meet the mage in his decadent quarters surrounded by mind controlled slave girls. He shows the power of House Twlight nightblooded magic by sending one of the girls plunging to her death. No-one tries to stop him (Naomi is under orders not to reveal her possession in front of him so she is swaddled in cloth like a desert planeter)

As they barter over the price of teaching 'Nat' (ie. the disguised Lady Blackbird) the secret of the black magic, they make a mistake. Blackbird offers Nicodemus the chance to show her his power by removing the curse from her 'slave' - Naomi - but Nicodemus cannot understand how a commoner like her would have a slave or indeed how the magic had been applied and then the slave was not in the presence of her master. At his moment Snargle arrived to warn them of the bounty hunters who had just started tearing up the bar downstairs (the bar was huge, a massive multi-story tower). He persuades Nicodemus to help them, the mage removes the magic from Naomi and then she punches a hole in his head for what he did to the slave girl!

Snargle helps the now-freed sex slaves to escape only to be confronted with the Snake Mercenary, who turns out to be a gene-spliced slave cut with goblin genes. Snargle tries to persuade her that if he is killed the (former) Pirate King would be pissed, but she reveals that she has another master, House Twilight, and that she wants the Goblin dead. What follows is a Sword in the Stone style shape changing duel where Snargle is trying to lose the hunter and succeeds.

The rest of the crew see off the missile-launching robot with a combination gun fire, magic and masonry! Naomi notices the Marine sniper just before he takes a shot at Vance and the Captain takes him down with a hail of bullets.

With Naomi cured, the Owl leaves Haven quickly.

Will Lady Blackbird ever reach Uriah?
Will Captain Vance, now revealed as an Adept of the Warpblooded, show his true feelings?
Is Naomi truly freed from the influence of House Twlight and why are they involved in this mess?
And as Snargle activates the tracking device, will he really betray the Pirate King, killing thousands for his own freedom?

Tune in next time on .... Lady Blackbird!

The post game discussion rotated around these things

1. Damned fine game
2. There needs to be a consensus about the speed at which XP is gained. We played in pretty fast and loose, with three players earning two advances and one getting only one. It either has to be a free-for-all grab fest or a slower, reflective end of session thing.
3. Trait whoring a go-go, but the use of traits to inform the context of tags meant that this was rarely a problem.
4. The steampunk thing never really caught on and seemed superfluous. Magic in Space seemed an easier hook for us.
5. Snargle is a terrible name and will be changed to something less like something from the Thundercats.
6. Naomi seemed pretty one-dimensional and might get swapped out for Kale in the next game. Personally, I think she has potential, especially if we were to focus a little more on her background and former exploits.
7. They now have many enemies.
8. The game generated a metric fuck ton of background at the table and my patented scrap of paper was full.
9. We will be playing it again.

Lady Blackbird gets the seal of approval. Good game.


Metaresearchboi said...


It's certainly an interesting little bunch of rules and setting with a very stripped down system, which is highly dependent on consensual and mutually acceptable limits being placed on both the keys, secrets and indeed traits.

I can see why this is a great convention game instantly, no prep, everyone buzzed to be inventive and creative in a short space of time, and knowing that the bold story decisions actually suits the "sky captain" genre.

It suffers a little from the Buffy/Captain syndrome of not everyone can be a slayer. Clearly the two protagonists are Vance and Lady Blackbird, and this is actually reinforced by the key structures.

Vance commands Snargle and Kale, he gets rewards for commanding and leading them, and they get rewards for following his orders.

Blackbird is the story pusher, and main leader and Naomi gets rewards for just doing what Blackbird says.

In a short one-shot convention game this a) may not be important at all as the characters are pretty disposable, and if Naomi wants to tell Blackbird to stick it, the player will probably have fun doing so and b) probably given the lack of progression isn't readily apparent.

However for a 4-6 session game I can see how this would easily become a problem unless the players started to use up their XP to swap Keys. Naomi telling Blackbord to piss off would get rid of the loyalty key for example... there then becomes the issue of group focus and motivation though, without loyalty to either Vance or Blackbird... why are the other characters on the ship again?

So, all in all, I think this is a great and creative one shot convention game, which is probably an ace way of getting the creative juices going in a very short space of time and, with bold and outragious decisions are a go-go (as the characters are disposable, and why not) probably is very cool in that setting.

Matt Prowse said...

Isn't this kind of story exactly what you're going to be doing with Fading Suns?

Vodkashok said...

I suspect that Ian's game with have less space squids, comedy goblins and OTT villains of the twirling moustache variety.

Consider it an aperitiff!

Fandomlife said...

Lady Blackbird and Fading Suns (both the original game and my rip off of it) are not remotely similar.

Odd, since I think this has came up twice now! Very surreal.