Play Report -- Lady Blackbird

In June, I sent a Facebook message to a gaming friend that said "Help!  I have to run a game tomorrow and we're all a little tired of dungeoning it.  I need something quick, easy, and that I can run with no prep."

Tall order, I know.  But he replied with "Lady Blackbird, no question.  Just get your players going and the game runs itself."  I had heard of Lady Blackbird before, but had never played it.  In fact, my story game experience was virtually nil.  But it looked very cool when I downloaded it and I was excited to give it a try.   I was finally able to run it two weeks ago.

The group I ran it for was very diverse, with some gaming veterans, two people who had played D&D in high school but not again until recently, and two folks who had never gamed at all until this group began in September.  Lady Blackbird is very mechanically simple -- a basic trait and dice-pool system -- so I wasn't worried too much about the players grasping the system.  What I was worried about was the players getting the narrative "gist"of the game.  Would they buy into the idea that they were responsible with moving the story forward?  Would they bite when I sowed the seeds of inter-player conflict?  Would they realize that failing checks is sometimes more fun than making them?

I read the intro text and told the players to imagine it was crawling up the screen, a la Star Wars.  That helped set the tone for the adventure, and the players bought into it very quickly.  The game begins with the PC's locked up in the brig of an imperial cruiser and every PC wanted to bust out in their own way.  They encountered guards and set off an alarm, but the real fun began when they made it to the hangar bay where their ship was kept.

The ship was guarded and out of fuel and the docking bay doors were closed, so the party split up, with the captain trying to open the doors, the Lady and her bodyguard securing the ship, and the rest of the crew finding the fuel (which we decided was coal).  Hilarity ensued.  It turns out a guard was on the ship.  He was quickly incapacitated by the bodyguard, but then promptly forgotten about.  The coal was found and loaded no problem.  The captain, meanwhile, totally flubbed his roll to open the doors, instead raising the launch ramp the ship rested on and sending it sliding toward the still closed doors!  Inside the ship, the crew was having trouble getting the engines lit.  Then, the captain open the doors using foul language and spite and sprinted toward his sliding ship.  He lept onto the open ramp as the ship tumbled out of the hanger into the vastness of the sky.  Plummeting downward, the ship finally got it's engines lit and flew away!  Very cinematic and exciting.

That was clearly the highlight of the evening.  They fought a sky squid, then made it to Haven, where they tried to contact Lady Blackbird's roguish cousin (Rasputin) for the location of the pirate king.  Running into some trouble (shocking, I know), we ended the session with the group holed up in a house of ill-repute.  Given that the group has now disintegrated due to some external issues, I am not sure we'll ever see if the Lady finds her pirate prince.

I generally like dice pool systems, which let players devote more resources to rolls they feel are very important.  It took a bit for me to remember that players had dice returned to their pool whenever they failed a test, so there was some self-correction and me simply resetting everyone's pool once I realized my mistake.  Generally, everyone was comfortable with the system, though the players were reluctant to spend their advances for some reason.

The one thing I did notice was that the degree to which individual players were comfortable describing the results of their PC's failure in exciting terms was correlated highly with the experience of the player.  One guy (who played the goblin pilot), instantly got it and wasted no opportunity complicating things for everyone else.  He's the one who brought on the sky squid encounter when, after failed navigation role, nonchalantly said "We're a little lost.  We probably stray right into a sky squid migration route."  And of course I made that happen.  The  other players weren't quite as comfortable with the idea that roll failure = more fun.  As we played, however they got a little more into the spirit of things, as when a failed contacts roll by the captain led to an encounter with a jilted ex-lover (who also happened to be a prostitute).

I had a lot of fun and hope to play more story games in the future.  I am especially intrigued by's The Mustang, which has a Dark Tower vibe.


  1. Take a look at Danger Patrol, another great Harper "Print Out and Play" game:

    My guys had a lot of fun/success with it, and it has a neat "Players decide how risky to make their actions" mechanic to it.

  2. I've always wanted to play Lady Blackbird and it's cool that you had such a great time. The setting almost completely matches a homebrew game that I put together just after I moved from C'Ville back to DC. It's uncanny, really. Anyway, thanks for the update. I'd love to try some of these story games with you guys in the future.

  3. Oh, and Danger patrol looks awesome too. :)

  4. Danger Patrol does look great. I am becoming more and more interested in not just story games, but in games that give the players greater control over the their own chances at success. That's why I liked the dice pool mechanic in Lady Blackbird -- if it's important, then use the pool!

    Action points can provide a similar mechanical function, I guess.


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