Lady Blackbird: Intro Game PDF

edited April 2009 in Story Games
Last week we had two gaming newbies at the table, so I made a game package inspired by the things they like: Firefly, World of Warcraft, and Laputa (Castle in the Sky). The system is my homebrew fusion of TSOY, The Pool, and Mouse Guard. Our first playtest went very well -- the newbies are coming back for more! -- so I expanded the PDF a bit, added artwork, and here it is.

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[Lady Blackbird PDF Link] 3.7 megs

The PDF has a setting guide, starting situation (Poison'd style), pregen characters, and an airship data sheet. It's presented "oracle style" with plenty of suggested bits for you to fill in as you play.

Let me know what you think. I had so much fun making this, I might keep expanding it with more ships, NPCs, locations, etc. We'll see...
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Comments

  • The awesomeness of this gives me tears of appreciation of the awesomeness.
  • That's really gorgeous. I love how each player gets a complete rules summary, and how everything in the PDF reinforces the setting and aesthetic. Sweet!
  • Uh, wow, John. That's fucking awesome.
  • This is such a thing of beauty, John. :)

    I'd love to hear more about your homebrew system. I can see the obvious influences -- TSOY's keys/refreshment, Mouse Guard's conditions, etc.

    Are the tags similar to FATE? How does the magic work?

    Back to the document itself -- I love how evocative the 'setting' page is. I'm amazed you got such a clear image of the world across in such a small space. :)

    -d-
  • Love.

    I also have to say its very spiff to see someone consciously using metacommunications around storygaming tropes in order to build functional, quick games with a targeted audience.
  • Man, I love how this all worked out. I could see the characters without the need of bio pics, and see the worlds from the top deck of the ship.
  • Wow, this is even more awesome than when we played last week!

    I like having the characters and rules on one sheet, still with the awesome formatting and design. Glad that worked out.

    It's a little funny to see a few of the things that developed in play a little more codified, but I like the overall product. Still plenty of places to add stuff on, and fill in the blanks.

    The added keys are great as well. I think that gives Kale some direction he was missing when I played him, and Paul's 'Witty Banter' definitely belonged on the character sheet.

    And, I can say from experience: it plays as awesome as it looks.
  • That's nice. Something about the combination makes me think that additional rules would be an unnecessary accretion. I'm interested in how scenes are structured, conflict declared, etc... all the gm stuff on the side.
  • Wow, just wow. That is an amazing 8 pages.
  • That's really slick!

    Also, Brand, re this:
    Posted By: Brand_Robins
    I also have to say its very spiff to see someone consciously using metacommunications around storygaming tropes in order to build functional, quick games with a targeted audience.
    Can you rephrase? I'm not sure what you mean re metacommunications.

    -Andy
  • Andy,

    Um, yea, that was a little obtusely worded wasn't it?

    What I mean, basically, is that John is using genre communication to get across what his games are about. Its pretty easy to see where he does this on the fictional level -- drawing on tropes that those the game is for will have some familiarity with and an emotional response to. He's also doing a similar thing on the mechanical level, where coherent bits are built out of elements across different games.
  • I like this a lot. Really a lot. And I'd like to hear more about this homebrew system, too.
  • A buddy is coming to town this weekend and I have been asked to put a game together. I'm hoping to play this.
  • edited April 2009
    Yep, that's it, Brand.

    To get these mini games done quickly, I'm leveraging the user as much as possible. You have to bring a lot to the table to play this (and GHOST/ECHO) -- which is the whole point. It has the side-effect of strong buy-in, which is nice.

    Daniel: The homebrew is something I've toyed around with for years. I have several dozen TSOY and Pool hacks lying around -- this one just happened to gel for this project. The tags could be thought of as Aspects, though they don't do all the nifty Aspect tricks, by default. Not that you couldn't introduce the idea of compels and such, if you were so inclined (I would offer a Pool die as the compel payoff, by the way).

    Feel free to ask questions about the system. I love talking mechanics.

    I don't have a set idea for how the magic works. In our game, Shannon, playing Lady Blackbird, said, "I want to cast some lightning into the bridge of the Hand of Sorrow, to wreck their shit." We rolled, and so it was. Magic is basically like any other activity rules wise. Oh, I do have that one restriction on Kale's magic, limiting him to one spell tag at a time. This is just to make his stuff seem weaker than Lady Blackbird's magic. When you play, everyone will probably have ideas for how magic works and by how the GM calls for rolls (or doesn't) and how you describe your actions you'll paint a picture of it as you go.

    Judd: Awesome. That would rock my world.
  • For other ideas on how to do Sorcery in TSOY-ish style games, I'd like to mention my character's summoning ability (which dovetails perfectly with this system).

    When I wanted to summon a creature, I had to determine what kind of creature it was and go about finding expensive materials to "pay them" with. For a spirit of an ancient air whale, I had to lace our airship-to-be with diamonds throughout, which became its circuitry. For a confidence spirit, I "gave" it all the beers in a tavern (had to discretely leave after that, imagine the patrons' surprise and anger!) This was all in-game description.

    Then, the storyteller roleplayed with me a bit, taking on the role of the spirit as I explained my dilemna. When done, I rolled my summoning ability. The number of success I got gave me free dice later on for any roll where the spirit's blessing came into effect. When doing some mad piloting, I called on the air whale. When bluffing my way into a compound, I called on the confidence spirit.

    When all the dice were gone, the pact was over and the spirit returned to the spirit world. They basically used me or something I focused them into as a host to explore our world again. However, can you imagine the sticky situation I was in when the air whale departed and the airship began descending!
  • Systemwise, do players get rewards for triggering the same key multiple times in a session?
    Is there any kind of economy on the gm side of things, or are difficulties declared by fiat?
    How do you frame scenes (gm declares beginning end, players declare, or both?)
  • To expand on John's comment about magic, we also let it fill in details without a roll. I played Kale and used Shatter to blow out a window I was diving out of (into thin air, by the way). didn't roll dice, just made it cooler than "I grab something heavy and smash the window so I can dive out." We DID roll dice to see if I made it out before the guards could stop me, but Shatter didn't play a part in that.
  • edited April 2009
    When I run it, the players pull their own XP tokens from the bowl whenever they think they've hit their Keys, according to whatever standards they develop. Multiple times per session, definitely. Multiple times per scene, typically. We also do a "fan mail" thing where someone else will pull an XP for you and slide it over. "Oh, you totally nailed your Key there."

    There's no GM economy. The obstacle level is set based on what's happening in the fiction, according to the GM's judgment.

    Scene framing is a whole wooly thing. Everyone has their methods and they'll all work fine here. I can go into more detail if needed.
  • edited April 2009
    Here's a thing we do that didn't find a place in the text:

    Ask questions -- lots and lots and make them pointed toward the things you're interested in. Like, Cyrus gives Naomi an order within earshot of Lady Blackbird, but the Lady's player doesn't register it right away. Naomi goes to do the thing ordered. So I ask Lady Blackbird's player, "How do you react when the Captain orders your bodyguard around? Is that okay with you?" And then, when it's totally not okay, "What do you say to him? What do you say to Naomi?" and a few more like that and everyone is yelling at each other and rolling dice to impose their wills.

    Also ask questions like "Does anything break when you do this crazy maneuver?" and "The fire probably spreads out of control doesn't it?" and "Are you going to just stand there and take this crap?" and "Do you two end up somewhere quiet together? Does something happen between you?"

    Keep that going at a steady pace and the game flies along pretty well.
  • I love the synergy of different rules influences. I think I even see a little Geiger Counter in the conditions (conditions as scene framing tools).

    John, seriously: embrace your destiny as ambassador to non-gamers. Or gamers new to story games, whichever. The simple sexy starting point is the sexy.
  • Very cool. This is why I'm paying attention to your stuff.
  • Awesome work!
  • Thanks for the kind words, everyone.

    Ben: Yeah, Geiger Counter is in there, for sure. GC is probably the top contender for new-to-gaming goodness. I'm just trying to keep up.
  • BTW, I'd pay like $10, and I'm sure others would too (ransom model?) if you went back and say, spent a weekend afternoon with a desktop grab app and demonstrated how you did the layout/design of that document: Map, title, ship, character sheets, everything.

    I'm just sayin'. Knowledge for us, and solid pocket money for you.

    -Andy
  • I agree with Andy.

    The thought of being able to make these myself makes me tingly with glee.
  • edited April 2009
    I just tweaked some typos and edited the rules for clarity.

    The links above go to the most current doc -- or if you're too lazy to scroll, click here.
  • Truly a thing of beauty. Neat!
    Posted By: John Harpereel free to ask questions about the system. I love talking mechanics.
    How many dice are people generally rolling in a conflict?
    Posted By: John HarperScene framing is a whole wooly thing. Everyone has their methods and they'll all work fine here. I can go into more detail if needed.
    I'd like more detail, please.
  • edited April 2009
    Posted By: noclueHow many dice are people generally rolling in a conflict?
    If it's something they're good at, they'll start with 5 or 6 dice. Plus a few pool dice and help for, say, 8 dice.
    If it's something they're not good at, they start with 3 or 4 dice. If it matters, they add a bunch of pool dice and end up with 8 or so.

    So I guess the answer is "8."

    Once the pools hit bottom, people start to fail more and the situation escalates fast. But their pools rebuild as they fail and eventually they rally (likely all marked up with conditions by then).

    I'll talk about scene framing in another post.
  • It hits me where Skies of Arcadia did. That's a good thing.
  • Sky Squid! Awesome!
  • edited March 2010
    I am a HUGE Skies of Arcadia fan. I list Reiko Kodama, the SoA producer, in the influences. Because I am hardcore like that.
  • Posted By: Brand_Robins
    I also have to say its very spiff to see someone consciously using metacommunications around storygaming tropes in order to build functional, quick games with a targeted audience.
    This is a strong contender for Best Single Sentence Paragraph Ever.
  • Marvelous. I'm a John Harper fanboy.
  • Awesome and frustrating in the best possible way. I was totally gonna use "The Blue" for my sky game, dangit. :P
  • This makes me even more excited about moving to Seattle. I can't wait to help bring the ruckus. Microgames 4ever. Hacking together games for specific audiences deserves to become the new, new thing.

    The conditions thing is a bit hilarious. I stole them from Afraid and thought Luke did too, but apparently the Mouse Guard ones are post-D&D-BW-etc. And now you've cross pollinated them. Sweetness.
  • I like the part about not losing your pool dice if you fail; I've been trying to build that kind of stuff into my designs, too.

    And I like the rest, too, obviously. I wanted to do something like this a while ago with an airship crash scenario, and now you've shown me a good way to set that up. Once this flu here ends, I'll try to work on my little thing. Thanks for the inspiration :)
  • This is awesome! Not only is the layout utterly gorgeous but it's a whole game in eight pages. Background, characters and initial situation; it's all there for anyone to run, very nice! I really hope to see more stuff like this that is playable in minutes and easy to use.
  • I am so, so jealous. Fuck, that's an amazing game. My Murder/Crows/whatever design contest entry was a lot like this in spirit, and so much not nearly as cool as this in execution. The "rules repeated on every sheet" thing is simple but genius.
  • *heart flutters* Jesus Whoa.
  • edited April 2009
    Hey Daniel (Solis): I've been told that Chad uses "the Blue" in Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies, too (which looks like another awesome airship game) so it's not like it's my thing.

    Adam: The "rules on each sheet" thing was Sage's idea, for he is wise.
  • you're a gem, john!
  • edited April 2009
    I know some people are running this soon, so here's another couple things we did that aren't spelled out in the rules.

    When it's character vs. character, each person rolls their dice. Most hits wins. Ties mean a stalemate (and you escalate!), with the option to commit more pool dice and re-roll. Sometimes you might roll dice for an NPC (a boss could have their own pool if you're so inclined) but usually they're just obstacles.

    If you set up something that gives you an advantage in a future situation, you can call on that thing as a Trait with tags. Like, in our game, Cyrus and Kale stole a bunch of guns from the armory on the Hand of Sorrow. So we wrote on Cyrus' sheet: Guns > High quality, Imperial. The plan was to use them as trading goods when they got to Haven. In a negotiation, I could say, "Sure, I'll hook you up with the pirate clan, but it's gonna cost you. How about those shiny new guns back there?" and Cyrus could erase the guns from his sheet in exchange for help. Or, if there's an obstacle and it comes to dice, Cyrus' player could call on up to 3 dice from the Guns trait to assist his roll. Generally, these advantage traits are temporary and less important than PC traits. There shouldn't be a lot of them floating around, or they'll overtake the game. Just reserve them for special situations when you really need to highlight an important advantage, not for every little thing. (For incidental, minor situational advantages, just give a bonus die.)
  • Could I ask for a few words on Conditions as well? I'm superficially familiar with Mouse Guard at best so that's the blind spot for me.
  • Posted By: John Harper

    If you set up something that gives you an advantage in a future situation, you can call on that thing as a Trait with tags. Like, in our game, Cyrus and Kale stole a bunch of guns from the armory on the Hand of Sorrow. So we wrote on Cyrus' sheet: Guns > High quality, Imperial. The plan was to use them as trading goods when they got to Haven. In a negotiation, I could say, "Sure, I'll hook you up with the pirate clan, but it's gonna cost you. How about those shiny new guns back there?" and Cyrus could erase the guns from his sheet in exchange for help. Or, if there's an obstacle and it comes to dice, Cyrus' player could call on up to 3 dice from the Guns trait to assist his roll.
    So, you added traits that added mechanical benefit without the use of XP because it was in the fiction?

    Or did they buy the trait Guns > High quality, Imperial with XP?
  • Without spending XP, because it was in the fiction, yeah. Also, it was a special case, which made the player's eyes light up with the thought of future dealings.

    If they bought the trait with XP (something like "Stolen Trade Goods" maybe) it would stick around as part of their character. Or part of The Owl, which you can totally buy traits for.
  • There's been a few "and also, this" items that came up in this thread.

    Any reason not to add those to the document so its 10 pages instead of 8?
  • Posted By: John HarperWithout spending XP, because it was in the fiction, yeah. Also, it was a special case, which made the player's eyes light up with the thought of future dealings.

    If they bought the trait with XP (something like "Stolen Trade Goods" maybe) it would stick around as part of their character. Or part of The Owl, which you can totally buy traits for.
    Gotcha, traits given by the fiction can be taken away forever with a conflict. Given the light nature of the rules as written, it will be up to the table to decide how those traits are given out, from traits like High Ground in battle to stuff like the Imperial Rifles.

    Traits on the character sheet can be temporarily denied with a conflict but not take right off the sheet.
  • So, this thing really worked. John wasn't able to make it this week, but out of the two people introduced to story games with Lady Blackbird one showed up again ready to game, and the other was kept away only by doing taxes. Shows a lot of how awesome the scenario and game is, and how well John can pull it off.

    The closest thing to a downside I can find is that our new story gamer, Adam, pointed out that starting with such a great game (and GM) casts a bit of a shadow after anything that you play after. As complaints go, I think it's a good one: Lady Blackbird is, in fact, too awesome.
  • Help! For some damn reason i can't get it to load.
    Could some kind soul email it to
    senate[dot]badassery[AT]gmail.com

    Thanks.
  • Great googly-moogly John!

    This looks great -- and tastes great too!
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