Going to Gothenburg every Easter for the GothCon gaming convention is becoming a tradition of mine. I usually hang out in the Indie gaming lounge, running games and meeting old friends. This year Arvid pushed Lady Blackbird by John Harper into my hands and said ‘Run this!’
Lady Blackbird is on the run from an arranged marriage to Count Carlowe. She hired a smuggler skyship, The Owl, to take her from her palace on the Imperial world of Ilysium to the far reaches of the
Remnants, so she could be with her once secret lover, the pirate king Uriah Flint.
Lady Blackbird is not a book, but rather a booklet at it’s sixteen pages, of which ten are character sheets for the pregen characters that come with the game. There are a few illustrations, all done by John, and all very nice.
The game consists of a situation, that will lead into an adventure, but that adventure is not described but will have to be filled in by the GM along the way; some characters and a set of rules that binds everything together into a playable whole. Reading the whole thing just takes minutes.
The setting in Lady Blackbird is some sort of steam punkish Firefly mashup. And it is given more of an overview than an actual description. There are only two pages worth of setting, the first is also the game’s first page and describes the situation – Lady Blackbird, her bodyguard and hired crew have been imprisoned in the hold of an imperial battleship. The second is a very short, but illustrated description of the game’s setting, only covering places where the lady might go once she has broken out of her captivity.
The rules are rather light, and do not cover every situation imaginable. There are ability checks, Solar System-like keys (that generate XP) and Secrets (that bend the rules). Roll a number of D6s, 4+ are successes, get at least the difficulty number of successes to succeed at the task. Fairly simple.
There are no rules for character generation, but the game comes with five pregens; the lady, her bodyguard, a ship’s captain and his mechanic and pilot. The lower half of each character sheet contains the full rules of the game. The players are tasked with managing most of the rules themselves, the GM is really only needed to set difficulties of tasks and assigning conditions (damage) to the PCs in the case of failures.
There is half a page on how the game should be run, and most of that describes a ‘run the game by asking questions’ style of GM’ing. The keys give the players direction, as they contain an element belief, and answer questions like ‘Who is my PC?’ or ‘What does my PC want?’
If I had wanted to run Lady Blackbird as an extended campaign the fallacies of the system and lack of detailed setting would have posed problems, But if the objective is to run the game as a one shot I think that there is enough material in those 16 pages.
We are given just the bare bones of a setting, but there is enough to last three or four hours worth of play, which is OK.
The rules are lacking, but they cover the situation that can be expected to pop up in the first hours of play at least, and cover them well. At least for someone who has experience with other indie RPGs, like TSOY/Solar System or the Burning* games. A complete beginner would find the instructions incomprehensible.
The form is excellent, everything fits together.
Will I play it?
Actually I already did, I ran the game four times at GothCon and had a good time. I will put Lady Blackbird into my bag of indie/story games and take it with me to future cons. But I doubt I will try to run the game at home for the regular bunch of players given their preference for campaign play.
www.onesevendesign.com/ladyblackbird – The official Lady Blackbird site.
imbuildingsomething.blogspot.com – Arvid’s blog on psychology, impro and RPG theory.