Friday, May 6, 2011

Lady Blackbird Extended

So, with Cherry Blossom Rain out of the way, what is my next big project?  Well, some time ago, I discovered Lady Blackbird and handed it to Bee (Go ahead and look at it.  I'll wait.  Done?  Great!).  In my experience, Bee doesn't want to plan a session.  She hates that!  She just wants action and adventure and awesomeness now.  She comes to a game with vague ideas of what she'd like to see happen, and then she simply lets the pieces fall where they may, improvising with her players to guide them to her scenes, but if something else awesome comes along, she plays with that too.  She doesn't like to play systemless, though.  She enjoys throwing the dice and seeing how pretty they are, relying on unusual results to feed her story and, in a habit she picked up from 7th Sea, she loves to hand out drama dice or action points.

Lady Blackbird is perfect for this.  All of its rules are literally printed on every character sheet, and Bee, as GM, needs to know none of them.  All she needs to know are these three rules:

  • The difficulty of the roll is between 1 and 5 "successes."
  • If players fail, she has the option of hitting them with one of the 7 problems listed on their sheet (Hurt, tired, lost, etc)
  • She can hand out drama dice in the form of a pool of dice players can use to boost their rolls (actually, that's not a rule, but Bee does it anyway, and it works well with the game).
That's all she needs to know.  The players take care of everything else on their own.  Even better, the game is, in fact, a standard adventure that she can play through, complete with suggested difficulties for various problems the players might encounter.

However, if you want to do anything but run the game with those 5 pre-generated PCs, or do an adventure other than that listed in the book, then you're basically on your own.  Thus, while Bee loves the system because it suits her so well, she has no interest in tearing apart the mechanics to make her own characters or to create her own adventures (she's refined the art of the lazy GM, and lazy GMs do not redesign systems from the ground up).  So, I'm going to do it for her.  I promised this as her birthday present, which coming from a published writer, is worth quite a lot ^_^

You know, presuming I actually finish.

Now, I'm not the first one to try to expand Lady Blackbird.  The writer himself took a stab at it, and other people have done their own work, but I think most of them are going about it in the wrong way.  Lady Blackbird has a few key features that appeal a great deal to its audience.  

First, it's very simple.  You don't have to shuffle through a giant skill list to figure out how to make your character.  This is the first place I think the Lady Blackbird Companion goes wrong: It lists every Trait its writer could come up with alphabetically.  How are you going to build a character like that?  Will you sort through the entire book, looking for something to build your character?  

Second, Lady Blackbird doesn't really describe its setting.  John Harper very cleverly gave us some common tropes, and then implied the rest of the setting.  He tells us in a few paragraphs that the world is shards of land orbiting a pale star, and instead of space, we have sky, plied by steam sky-ships.  Beyond that, we only know there are imperial nobles because Lady Blackbird is one.  We only know there are slaves because Naomi is an ex-slave, and we only know about goblins because of Snargle, and we only know about Flamebloods and Sky-Squid because they are mentioned in the potential challenges.  The Lady Blackbird Companion tries to fill in the blanks for you, but the whole point of Lady Blackbird are those blanks.  Do we really need to know, say, the culture of the goblins?  We can guess well enough on our own, thanks.

Finally, the real beauty of Lady Blackbird is the fact that it already includes all the challenges you need to run your adventure, and these challenges double as scene-seeds.  Because it includes the challenge rating for a fight against a flameblooded sorceror, you find yourself pondering how you might get the players to a point where they would battle a flameblooded sorceror, for example.  None of the works I've looked at (which, granted, hasn't been exhaustive) do this.  Instead, they expect the GM to come up with all of that on their own because most people who are writing Lady Blackbird material, other than the original author, come at this from a work-intensive, traditional GM perspective.

So, we're going to take a two pronged approach to our task.  First, we're going to research the traits, tags, keys and secrets, cobble together our own, and create a list.  Unlike in the Companion, though, we're going to sort them by categories: Professions, Qualities, Backgrounds, Magic and Races.  That way the player can look through, for example, the profession list to find what his character's job might be, the backgrounds to explore what his history is, and round him out with a few Qualities.

Then, we're going to make challenges for everything I can think of: Different regions mentioned in passing in the book, The various houses, the different kinds of sky-ships, the different races I come up with (including Goblins), the various conditions the book lists on the character sheet.  These challenges will be sorted together in themes.  For example, I'll find a large, beautiful picture that might represent Nightport, then create a list of challenges that one might find in Nightport, with possibly a few keys, secrets and traits that might be unique to Nightport.  In this manner, I'll offer the reader not only the potential skeleton of a story, but I'll also tell him a great deal about Nightport implicitly, rather than explicitly.  That is, by reading the challenges associated with Nightport, he'll get an idea of what Nightport might be like.

In this way, players should be able to construct their own characters quickly, and Bee should be able to simply flip the book open to some interesting part of the world or some interesting concept, start grabbing challenges, and just run the story.  If I play my cards right, it should be the great book of pick-up games.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...