Last week at Gen Con, I had a chance to both run and play Lady Blackbird once more, which was just great. I played this little game extensively a couple of years ago and it never ceases to amaze me how much a few pages can deliver. After running it, I was talking to some friends at the lobby of the Embassy Suites about the game, comparing notes on how we ran the game, and I made the observation that for me, Lady Blackbird really sings when you have all the characters in one location, with their agendas out in the open where they can see how much at cross-purposes they are. After that it’s just a matter of seating back and enjoying the ensuing show.
Later, as I went back to thinking about Princess, Jock & Nerd, it occurred to me that the Lady Blackbird format would be a really amazing and simple way of doing this The Breakfast Club game since that is exactly what the movie is about: putting these characters in one location and letting them interact with each other. This was confirmed in my mind as I played the game on the last day of the con and then spoke about it some more with more people, including some of my players from the weekend.
I mentioned this on Twitter and immediately the idea was both liked and supported. It makes sense; Lady Blackbird is an experiment on character interaction at its core and fits well the theme and format of the movie.
So that’s what I’m doing now, turning The Breakfast Club into a Lady Blackbird hack that can be played quickly and in a short period of time, which fits my design goals to a T. In addition, Sean Nittner of the Narrative Control podcast issued me a challenge to have this done by the end of September so he can run it at Big Bad Con in Oakland, CA, which works for me as it lights a fire under my butt to get this done quickly. To that end, I’m just gonna go straight into writing, as opposed to blogging the process as I go along.
I’m starting it all by cheating, though.
Those were Rich’s word during the game and on his after-game tweet (see my previous AP post) to describe how our Lady Blackbird game came to an end. “French” here could stand for “artistic/impressionistic/avant-garde,” but I’ve a feeling that it really stands for “unsatisfactory.” Or more completely, visually spectacular, but narratively unsatisfactory. If you take a moment to read through Rich’s AP Report and Mick’s Report of the last session of the game, I believe you’ll arrive at the same conclusion.
What is interesting is that, to me, describing it as a “French movie” made a lot of accurate sense. I’m not gonna say that I’m a film connoisseur–that title more aptly goes to my wife who does have a degree in Motion Pictures and is the one who studied the various film movements that we could lump under “French”–but being married to my wife, I have picked up a bit of exposure to this kind of art cinema over the years. And yes, that means having seen movies that fit the very same description I wrote above (Picnic at Hanging Rock, I’m looking at you!). But that has also taught me that not all stories are linear, and that sometimes a story is done even if I don’t think it is.
Though we had planned to do this the last week of 2009, fate decreed it would be the first week of 2010 that would bring our Lady Blackbird game to a close. And boy, did it bring it to a close! We gathered around the Skype table and soared off into the Blue to find out the destiny of the crew and passengers of The Owl.
Rich, our GM, is going to write up his general recap, which I’ll link to here once it is up. What follows is all from Kale’s point of view.
I would suggest you go back and read the previous report to catch all the strings being tied-up here.
The curse has been broken! By that I mean the curse that kept me from playing with the rest of the group since September (which isn’t entirely fair, as in there we had the High Holy Days and our move to a new apt, but alongside days when it all seemed like it would work, then it didn’t). But that’s the past and last night I got to rejoin the crew of The Owl for the penultimate session of our Lady Blackbird game. (There have been two sessions since the Third Session linked above, but no reports have been written for those.)
I had guests over for dinner last night so I thought I would be unable to play in the ongoing game of Lady Blackbird. However, by 10:30 PM our guests had gone home, so I fired up the laptop and hopped onto Skype to join the group and the game, and right in the nick of time, too!
By the time I joined the group had been playing for about an hour, mostly on scenes dealing with all the other characters. They had just mentioned something that happened with my character, Kale, but we hit the rewind button and replayed the same scene with me at the helm.
Turns out I heard some noises up in the Owl’s general area and when I came up from the engine room, I had only just enough time to see three ratlings kidnapping Lady Blackbird before my own world went completely dark, courtesy of a sap to the back of the head. I came to some time after that to find the ship rattling as Snargle prepped it for launch. This time the image of Kale as channeled through Steve Buscemi was very clear in my head, so I was able to tap into that characterization immediately. This time around, however, it was angry/ranting Steve Buscemi in control (for the most part).
After getting Snargle to turn off the ship and join me in looking for Lady Blackbird, we run out into the streets of Nematron, a place I personally would rather avoid due to some gambling issues. I’m talking a mile a minute, knowing my hide’s on the line and will be claimed, painfully, by both Captain Vance and Pirate King Flint.
As we’re about to break into a sprint into the heart of Nematron, I hear Naomi (played by Mick Bradley) yell out our names from behind. She *just* appeared there, but I don’t ask too many questions as I know Vance can work some warp juju and supposedly they were together. Nor do I ask about the hundreds of tiny, bleeding slashes over Naomi’s bandaged-and-clad-for-combat body. Hey, I don’t judge. “We gotta get outta here,” yells Naomi. “No we can’t, Lady Blackbird’s gone,” I yell back as we run towards the other. That catches her attention, and thankfully not in a I’m-gonna-kill-Kale-Arkam kinda way. We then break off to find Vance, wherever he is.
Well, wherever is coming right at us at breakneck speed as we also are running into the Nematron bazaar. Something having to do with Mother Six (*shudder*) being indisposed (which of course is completely an euphemism). “I told you to prep the ship!” Vance says. “Yeah, we can’t, cause the Lady’s gone,” I tell him. There’s a round of fingerpointing and I’m pointing them right at someone else in the market cause I don’t wanna have Vance and Naomi bust my chops. Someone says something about Snargle’s ratling friend but it kinda washes over me (wait, Snargle has a friend? A ratling? A he?!) as I inspect the area for clues. Naomi tried and found some hair that could belong to the Lady, so I know I got a good chance.
Kapow! I don’t find any actual clues, but I can read the crowd like the experienced (if now slightly reformed) huckster I am, and I notice two ratlings being *too* casual by the entrance to a bar not that far away. I motion to Vance, who knows me, just knows me, and he starts advancing. So I decide to slam those ratlings with a nasty surprise and spin around casting a Shatter Spell. Except it misfires and instead of shattering their weapons, it shatters their liquor. “The beer? Seriously?” I say as I run over.
Vance pulls out a nasty, nasty, NASTY move and gives one of the ratlings some head ventilation when he proves uncooperative, but the other one vomits out the location of the Lady inside the bar. So we march in, guns drawn.
“Don’t anyone move, or I’ll shoot you. I’LL SHOOT YOU DEAD! I swear!” This screamed at the top of my lungs, with a wild and crazy look on my face, while I wave two guns around the room while standing next to the twin-drawn guns of Captain Vance and Naomi (she’s a weapon all by herself).
The bartender cooperates and we find the Lady in the side room he motioned to us. Of course, Vance and Naomi pick this moment to have a tete-a-tete on who the frak goes first through the beaded curtain, while I’m left to cover a roomfull of bar patrons, some of which I know are packing– “Hey, what the heck you think you’re doing? Sit down, sit the frak down! Don’t get any funny ideas none of you!!!”
Vance finally goes through and convinces the ratlings that, with Mother Six dead, they ain’t got orders anymore. Takes the little runts a bit to get it, but they let the Lady go and we’re outta that bar faster than Vance’s warp juju could do it, I swear. Except when we get back to the Owl, Snargle is nowhere to be found. Great!
Vance goes off to search for Snargle, while I go in to prep the ship for take-off. Lady Blackbird decides she wants to cure Naomi’s hundred thousand cuts and asks me for some alcohol (do I look like a drunk?). I don’t know what it is about Lady Blackbird that makes me so nervous I can barely put a sentence together. Frak! Stupid, stupid!
Well, I know *exactly* what it is about Lady Blackbird, but we ain’t gonna talk about that…
Kyle is described simply as “A burglar and petty sorcerer, first mate and mechanic of The Owl.” That’s all you get in the realm of character/roleplaying notes. The Traits reinforce the descriptors in the sentence, and the Keys & Secrets (think of them as major issues of the character that should/will drive his personal story) just add an extra bit of info (Kale’s greedy, has an unbreakable bond of friendship with Captain Vance, and has a mission he wants to complete at all costs). Beyond that, it’s all up to me how I portray Kale.
Having there been already one session of this game, wherein the crew valiantly escapes the clutches of The Hand of Sorrow, we started our tale about an hour after that. We were all in the ship’s mess hall, regrouping, and eating some food cooked by me.
We started off a bit slow while everyone got into character. Arnold slipped right into the role of Snargle the goblin (who has a Key of Banter) and started chatting it up. That made it easy for the rest of us to join in. During those early scenes, I was still feeling Kale out, and the few lines I had I played him as confident, sarcastic and determined. After an almost-suicidal escape maneuver from a giant sky squid, I pushed for the responsible thing to do, meaning refueling in some space-forsaken planetoid where I gambled a lot and would not be a welcomed sight.
While most of the crew headed planetside for provisions, I stayed behind to do some repairs. I also stayed behind with Lady Blackbird and it was during my one scene with her that Kale truly emerged. My personal nervousness about playing after so long, playing over Skype, playing a game new to me, with a new player at the “table,” all these got combined and refocused into my roleplaying. Kale suddenly was shifty and nervous, almost nebbish, talking a mile a minute, playing with his hands, looking all over the place (my fellow players could obviously not see these gestures over Skype, but nevertheless it was what I was doing while talking in-character). He delivered his message to Lady Blackbird, that Captain Uriah Flint was waiting for her and that it was his mission–beyond her hiring the ship to transport her–to deliver her safely, “in one piece,” to the Captain (hitting my Key of the Mission right there).
I then told her, “You make me nervous.” Which surprised *me* as the player! She asked why, and I told her it was because she was a noble, and I’d had some run-ins with some of her peers here and there. What houses have you had dealings with? she asked. “Oh, well, I can tell you, not yours.” Tell me of one of those dealings, she said.
“Oh, there was this one time, at a ball, there was this young noble girl, very pretty, and we danced, and well, you see, I mean, I swear, it’s not like, I just ended up with, well it was a misunderstanding, really, I stole these rings from her, but that was all a misunderstanding because what I really was after was the bejeweled sword she was wearing, but the jewelery, well, it was so easy… I was a bad person; I’m trying to be better. … … That is a very shinny golden vase you have there, Lady, very valuable, I can see. … I’ll be in the engine room, if you need me, which you won’t, but if you do, just bang loudly on the hull, I’m sure I’ll hear it, or use the comm system, as well, yeah. Good evening. Deliver you to the Captain, in one piece. Engine room. Yes, later.” As he walked away, Lady Blackbird could hear echoing through the halls, “Stupid, stupid, stupid!”
After the game was over, the guys were nice enough to comment about the portrayal, and I believe it was Mick who said the two magic words: Steve Buscemi. Yes, that’s precisely it. He’s both the confident mo-fo that can be cool as a Reservoir Dog, yet nervous and shifty and yappy, all in the very same portrayal. That’s my Kale Arkam.
I finally managed to get together with my Wednesday night Skype gaming group (Rich Rogers & Mick Bradley of Canon Puncture and Chuck Hedden). Ever since playing a session of Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies back in July, while I was in Puerto Rico, I’d been unable to rejoin them for anything. Tonight, however, it happened. Except it almost didn’t.
I went on Skype and found only Mick. Rich was apparently having problems with his computer so would not be joining us. I figured I’d just chat with Mick for a while, and while were setting things up, we see Arnold, a friend of Rich’s from Jacksonville, come online. Then we see Rich, and then he disappears. Long story short, 15 minutes later we were all there, and after some more finagling with PowerGrammo by Rich, we decided to get our game on and play. What game? Not S7S, and not the playtest of Rich’s baseball RPG called Making the Bigs or his Game Chef 09 entry. So we played Lady Blackbird.
Lady Blackbird is a short-form game/adventure mod created by John Harper. The document is 15 pages long, and it contains a starting situation, a map with some entries, 5 pre-generated characters, a ship technical readout and the rules (which are, in essence, a very stripped down version of The Solar System as found in The Shadow of Yesterday). A character’s sheet is half the character info and stats, and half all the rules the player will need to play the game. The scenario is intriguing in that it has tons of potential for story all presented at the moment when it is all about to explode. Since the story can go in a thousand directions based on the actions of the players and the GM, it works out as a great, no-prep RPG. It’s a free download, so get it and check it out.
With Mick having played it once before and deciding to continue playing the same character, Naomi Bishop, Arnold chose the goblin Snargle, while I decided to play Kale Arkam, the first mate of The Owl.
And thus our story goes…