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.

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