Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Taking flight with Lady Blackbird

Lady Blackbird is the story of a noble woman searching for true love in an endless blue sky of shattered worlds. It's also a role playing game system built around a single scenario with a strong narrative focus.
On top of all that, it is also an example of a role playing game designed so that everyone, including the game master, can sit down and play with minimal preparation. 

Lady Blackbird pulls off a pretty amazing trick. It uses pregenerated characters and a synopsis of the general storyline BUT manages to be opened-ended enough that the players have immense freedom to make their choices and develop the story. That's a pretty amazing balance.

Lady Blackbird is set in a world that in one part steam punk and one part swashbuckling adventure and one part fairy tale. Sky pirates and sorcerers fly spaceships through the breathable aether. The players portray Lady Blackbird, her bodyguard and the scruffy but good-hearted band of rogues helping her escape her arranged marriage and reach her secret lover, the pirate king Uriah Flint.

Each player character sheet also includes the rules, which should give you an idea how simple the rules are. Every time you try to do something tough, you build a dice pool and roll, 4,5 and 6 being successes. Characters break down into traits to add dice to rolls, keys to get experience points and secrets that are really special abilities.

I particularly like keys. When you hit a key, you either get an experience point or a die in your personal dice pool. And you can buy them out for extra experience or dice by acting against the key and getting rid of it. Keys help guide roleplaying but also gives you so much freedom that you can subvert them.

The game master section is really what makes Lady Blackbird work. The game master is encouraged, above all else, to ask questions. They then use the answers to build the situations and story. That's collaborative story telling!

While I sadly have not played Lady Blackbird, I have a number of friends who have and who really loved it. And, because it is so open in its structure, it has a lot of replay value. The same group of players can play it again and come up with a completely different story.

Lady Blackbird pulls off the very difficult trick of being mechanically very simple and accessible but allowing for some very involved character development and story telling. If you're looking for a game that'll last two to four sessions that requires minimal prep time, Lady Blackbird is a strong choice.

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