Sunday, 27 September 2009

My Darn Ex-Wife

(distinctly inspired by this)

Space is big.

Duke County, Alabama, where the lot of you have spent the majority of your short Earth lives, is considerably smaller. However, y'all are about to see a hella lot more of the former. Y'all remember TJ's good-for-nothing ex, Linda-Lee? The chain-smoking one in the trailer park? Well, turns out her new beau, Greg, is actually Gregorix IV, Heir to the Radiant Throne of the Tauron Imperium. No shit. And she's decided that this gives her the right to take little Connor and Maddi-Sue off all by herself. In clear violation of the joint custody agreement, mind you.

Now, that just ain't right. And us all is going to do something about it.

My Darn Ex-Wife

I've been toying with the idea of a rednecks-in-space game based on the FTL Y'all concept for a long time. When I stumbled upon John Harper's magnificent Lady Blackbird, it didn't take me long to conclude that it would be a perfect rule-set for the sort of light, gonzo, character-driven action-adventure I had envisaged. It took me until this past weekend to actually act on the concept, when I was able to toss together a few friends and run a short game of My Darn Ex-Wife. The game was unfortunately cut short by time limitations, but we did manage to have a few enjoyable moments, starting from TJ and Auntie Mae searching Linda-Lee's trailer, and ending with Our Heroes departing for Quadrants Unknown in TJ's hastily hyper-converted pickup truck, with Squid Head Bill tied down in the back end.

The core structure of the game seemed to work well; the characters engaged with one another and drew life from their Traits and Keys. However, I feel like the initial opening situation needs to be more aggressive and have more bite. Lady Blackbird's opening situation pushes the characters to act, immediately. By contrast, after discovering the scorch marks on Linda-Lee's lawn, the posse spent a fair amount of time trying to call on legal aid, first from the police and then from the lawyers. Instead of framing the game at the start of the story, I need to find an exciting situation to toss the characters into immediately. I toyed with the idea of stealing Lady Blackbird's opening whole-heartedly, but it seemed too derivative. In any case, with their navigation-free warp jump at the end of the first session, I have plenty of rope to hang them with at the start of the next session.

It did turn out to be absolutely hilarious in play... for one, the hideously terrible southern accents put on by a group of Australian gamers made everyone's day, and Jarrah's portrayl of Squid Head Bill as a tentacled Bill Bailey was brilliant.

Comments, criticism, and open insults are welcome.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Lady Blackbird II: Flight from Sorrow's Clutch

I ran a game of Lady Blackbird today for my three younger cousins, having played it once before (link), and it was an amazing blast, as well as their first real exposure to the world outside of D&D. Of the five main characters, the three selected were the dashing captain Cyrus Vance, the sneaky mechanic Kale Akram, and the loyal bodyguard Naomi Bishop.

The game started, as these things often do, with the protagonists suspending in a series of hanging cages above an electrified floor in the Hand of Sorrow's needlessly elaborate brig, while a quartet of guards played poker outside the door. A plan was quickly hatched by Vance to take out the guards: Kale would pick the locks on his cage and swing across to the guard's platform, while Vance teleported himself over and helped Kale take out the guards. The plan was executed almost without failure, except for the whole "taking-out-the-guards" part. One of the guards successfully evaded both Kale's blade and Vance's fists, sprinting towards the klaxon lever.

Seeing the unfolding disaster, Naomi simplified the situation by tearing one of the bars off her cage and hurling it at the guard from across the room, knocking him clean off the platform and onto the electrified floor below. While the other characters stared in amazement at the dead guard, she leapt down to the door, tore it off, and led the others into the corridor.

As most escapees from the Sorrow seem to conclude, the key to a successful escape was determined to be disabling the engines in some fashion while releasing the Owl from its internment in the fighter bay. The gang split in twain, with Kale taking Snargle to disable the boilers, and the rest heading off to secure and refuel the Owl.

At this point, I introduced the concept of refreshment scenes. You could see the inner D&D munchkin leaping in their eyes at the idea of being able to get back all their spent pool dice "just by talking!". Over the course of three flashbacks, we discovered that Naomi had been driven to rebellion by a pit fight in which she slew her only friend, that Vance was a man of honor who had first befriended Kale by protecting him from mistreatment in a ship's brig after he had tried to steal a ship's flux capacitor, and that Kale hailed from the dusty war-torn world of Kavernis, where had learned of machinery working in the mines.

Having shown a few glimpses of their past, the characters gingerly tested out the Hand of Sorrow's state-of-the-art Pneumatic Personnel & Mail Delivery System, which sent them hurtling through the ship in a hail of papercuts and chaos. Kale and Snargle were roughly deposited in Boiler Room No. 2, where they attempted to talk the Imperial engineers into leaving the room. When that plan failed, they took the more expedient route of taking out the engineers, freeing the five goblin slaves, and disabling the boiler.

Meanwhile, Vance, Naomi, and Lady Blackbird headed up to the hanger deck. After surveying the array of Imperials arranged aboard the deck, they decided that brute force would probably be ineffectual at this point (despite Naomi's longing look). Instead, Vance drew on his skilsl at forgery to forge Hollas' signature on a document releasing the Owl from the Hand of Sorrow. Amazingly, it worked; they simply walked to the ship while the auto-fueler refilled the Owl's tanks.

Back in the aft of the ship, Kale decided that disabling one out of the ship's five boilers simply wasn't enough - they had to put the ship's etheric flux bar out of commision as well. They quickly popped up to the main flux core, where a single dimwitted guard protected the most important component on the ship: its flux capacitor. Unfortunately, successfully this particular dimwitted guard turned to be beyond their capacity. Before he was knocked out, he managed to activate the alarm klaxon. Kale quickly removed the flux capacitor (replacing it with a look-a-like dud pulled together from spare parts) just as a horde of Imperial marines descended on the flux core. Thinking quickly, Snargle pushed Kale into the nearest pneumatic tube.

It was at this point that Captain Hollas finally finished running the Owl's registry over the wireless, and alarm klaxons sounded throughout the ship. The escape suddenly started to look a lot less like a walkover. Just as Vance was about to step aboard the Owl, a nasty-looking imperial officer (and clearly another Stormblood) ascended from the decks like an avenging angel, lightning crackling from his two swords. The officer was Sky Colonel Carter, Vance's former commanding officer, as well as a former owner of Naomi's pit on Ilysium. In short, he was no-one to mess with. It was probably a good thing, then, that Naomi jumped on him from the Owl, breaking her fall with his neck.

Much chaos ensued, as Vance, Kale, and Naomi engaged in a riotous firefight with marines and fighter pilots, while Snargle attempted to open the bay doors. At various points, Cyrus, Lady Blackbird, Naomi, and Kale were all placed in mortal danger. Dramatic rescues were made. At one point, Naomi and Vance were knocked onto the bay doors, which promptly started to swing open. Vance was saved by Kale's Jump spell, but Naomi had to claw her way up after clingy desperately to a sword plunged into the door. In due time, the Owl escaped from the desperate chaos of the fighter bay, soaring off into the open Blue.

Another series of flashbacks revealed new facts about the characters. Kale had served with Snargle on an Imperial mission against the Lizard-men of Cadeus, where the Empire drained their swampland homes to destroy their resistance to Imperial rule. The two of them had crashed into the swamps, where Snargle saved Kale's life and learned to appreciate the culture of the Lizard-men, who were later completely wiped out. Naomi told us how she had been given a choice by Lady Blackbird's father between death for her crimes in rebelling against the empire, and swearing a mystic oath to become his daughter's guardian. Vance discovered how Lady Blackbird had fallen in love with Uriah Flint as a young woman on Haven attending a masquerade ball, and how Count Carlowe was a greedy pig who loved gambling and whores.

The game was pulled back to the present by Snargle, who alerted them to four incoming sonar pings. Three Dragonfly fighters emerged from the clouds, followed by a massive hammer-like fighter-bomber, custom designed by Vance's former classmate at the academy... Captain Pickett. Taunts were exchanged by wireless as the three Dragonflies buzzed across the Sorrow's bow, forcing Snargle and Kale to toss a Crazy Ivan. One was blown apart by withering fire from the Owl's turret, but the other two quickly whipped around for another pass.

As Pickett's Skyhammer and its four massive cannons closed on the tail of the Owl, Kale dumped pyrotic spirits into the thrust coils, loosing a massive blast of flame that forced Pickett off course. At this point, the two Dragonflies buzzed across on their second pass, peppering the Owl with bullets. One was torn apart by turret fire; the second was less fortunate. Naomi chose this point to leap from the Owl onto the passing Dragonfly and tear apart its cockpit. The shear insanity of this manuever suprised everyone, including the pilot, who forgot to deploy his paraloon and fell screaming into the roiling Depths.

Seeing this, Vance decided to join the fun. He teleported himself onto the Skyhammer, shooting Pickett in the head and leaping into the pilot's seat. With ridiculous luck, he managed to seize the controls and pull the Skyhammer out of a collison course with the Owl. He piloted the Skyhammer under Naomi's suddenly disintegrating Dragonfly, allowing her to leap to safety.

Pausing briefly to collect and detain the remaining Imperial pilot who hung helpless in the sky from his paraloon, the two ships flew off into the wild blue yonder.

The game worked amazingly well for my cousins. It took them a while to grasp the idea that Key were there for them to hit, not for me to pass out experience point to them, but once they did they grasped them with gusto. Kale had even bought a new Key (Key of the Tinkerer) by the end of the session. Conflicts were dramatic, characters were played with vigor, and much fun was had by all.

TLDR: Brigs were escaped from. Imperials were killed. Ships were jumped onto. Things exploded. Keys were hit. Fun was had by all.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Lady Blackbird Actual play - Escape from Sorrow

If you haven't heard of Lady Blackbird yet, well... click the link. It's an awesome little indie game/scenario that is designed to play out differently with every group of players, and just generally rocks my socks off. I may be blogging quite a bit about this gem in future.

Starting with how our particular team of intrepid players handled it

Session 1: The Escape from Sorrow

This first session was a while ago, so I'm a tad hazy on some things.

We start, as per usual, in the Brig of the Hand of Sorrow. The Brig is, in the case of our game, a large room with cages suspended from the ceiling and a single bored guard doing sudoku in the corner. Whispered plans are thrown back and forth until Captain Vance finally gets sick of it all, grabs Naomi's arm, and teleports the both of them behind the guard. Vance motions to knock him out. Naomi snaps his neck, and gets herself the first XP of the game (we used red poker chips to track XP and white ones for pool dice). Vance starts ordering Kale to do things. Kale does them. This nets them both XP. Everybody finds this highly amusing.

The party decide that the only way they can escape is to shut down the auxiliary power couplings in the engine room, and thus prevent the ship from steering, deploying fighters, or tracking its guns. Vance don's the deceased guard's uniform, and pretends to be assorting the prisoners to the aft brig. The few troopers they bump into on the way fall for it completely.

Once the group reaches the engineering section, they split up. Vance now pretends to be showing Captain Hollas' sister (as played by Lady Blackbird) around the engine room, and Snargle and Kale sneak off to to engineer's locker room to get some disguises. This is temporarily hampered by a huge Samoan-looking engineer who just got out of the showers, and greets them asking why he hasn't seen them before. Kale thinks quickly, and shacking the engineer's hand, explains that he's been in the infirmary since the last port.

"Oh, you know how it is. Port town girls. Contagious diseases. That sort of thing"

While the Samoan engineer quickly goes off to wash his hands, Snargle and Kale help themselves to some engineers' uniforms and go mingle in the engine room.

Seeing them signal to her, Lady Blackbird creates a diversion. Putting on her hautiest noble voice, she loudly berates the goblin chief engineer for the "Deplorably filthy" state of the engines, the engineers, and his own outlandishly huge mustache. As the chief engineer and his mustache wither under her scorn, Kale sets about magically shattering a few essential parts for the auxiliary power couplings. Alarms sound, and as the engineers stop watching Lady Blackbird with a mixture of terror and amused fascination, our heroes make this exit.

They make it most of the way to the forward docking bays when them bump into trouble... specifically, Captain Hollas and his two robot bodyguards. They give chase until Lady Blackbird unleashes a mailstorme of magical power, frying the robots and blowing Hollas down the corridor and out of sight. As the alarms pick up a notch, the group hurry into the docking bay.

Now, the bay is like a big hanger. Most of the ship's fighter compliment is stowed here, as is the Owl. All of them are stowed by being attached by chains and pulleys to the roof, and are accessed by a series of suspended walkways. The actual entrance to the bay is in the form of large, round hatches under each docking clamp. When a fighter (or other ship) deploys, it literally drops straight down. Or it would... if the doors were open. They're closed. And the auxiliary power, which is neede to open them, has just been shut off. There is a backup local generator, but it's on the bay floor, a dozen meters below.

Oh, and the fighter pilots who were having a tea break here just noticed Our Heroes. They draw their electrical swords and advance.

Naomi gets stuck in, Vance grabs a lightning sword and faces off against the wing leader, Commander Crane... who, we learn in a flashback scene, was a constant pain in the butt for both Vance and Kale when they were in the imperial navy, years ago.

Snargle hooks up a fuel line to the Owl, and starts doing pre-flight checks, whileKale starts clambering down the stairs towards the backup generator... Lady Blackbird decides to take a faster route and user her new Fly spell. She fails miserably and crashes to the deck below, badly hurting her leg. Snargle and Kale catch up with her, and together the three of them start the generator, and jam it in the on position, just as a group of imperial marines burst in at the other end of the bay, and start firing. The two retreat back up the stairs, as the marines advance and try to stop the generator.

Vance and Crane has fought each other to standstill. At which point Naomi, having finishes with Crane's buddies, walks up behind him and snaps his neck. Vance is a bit peeved about this, but has other things to worry about... the marines are charging up the stairs towards lady blackbird! He slices througha hydraulic cable and swings onto the stairway, placing himself in the path of the marines and two experience points.

Performing a gallant fighting retreat, the group reach the top of the stairwell, and Naomi breaks the supports, sending the marines falling... through the now mostly-open docking bay doors, below. Everybody piles into the ship, and Snargle releases the clamps as the other marines stop the generator. The Owl plummets out of the Hand of Sorrow, only marginally damaging the port side engine, and leaving Captain Hollas furiously waving his fist out a veiwport as they fly off into the Blue.

Session 2 write-up coming soon...