Part II of our Lady Blackbird game. Part I was a while ago, and I wanted to start In Medias Res again. They were looking for the Secret of the True Course in Haven, and the last thing I wanted was to start with a slow investigation. That’s not what this game is about! I tried to think of a new In Medias Res that offered lots of fun dynamcis, and wouldn’t rehash the first opening scene. In the end (and after seeing Django Unchained and deciding bounty hunters are awesome), I came up with the following:
LADY Blackbird, her bodyguard, and the crew of The Owl have come to Haven to repair the Owl, find the Secret of the True Course that will lead them through Remnants, and bring Lady Blackbird to her once secret lover, the pirate king Uriah Flint.
HOWEVER No pirates have been seen in Haven or its surroundings for the better part of a year. The only pirate they can find a trace of is Rufus Pickett – the bounty on his head was picked up by the Scarlet Bounty Hunters of Nightport. A particularly unsavory sort that will store targets in their impenetrable Scarlet Keep and see who will pay most for them: their families, the empire, debt-collectors, whoever has the credits.
SO A dangerous gamble was made. Cyrus Vance, Lady Blackbird and Kale have allowed themselves to be captured by Scarlet Bounty Hunters. Snargle and Naomi have infiltrated The Scarlet Keep.
Will they be able to find the Secret Lair of the Pirate King?
If they do, will Uriah Flint accept Lady Blackbird as his bride?
By the time they get there, will she want him to?
I sent the intro around to the players a little while beforehand and we were good to go! I didn’t want the players to feel stuck in a zany plan for reasons of plot, so I explained that their characters had planned this heist quite well, and that they were totally allowed to call out things that “would have been included in the plan retro-actively”.
I took a lot of notes during the first session, and I had a list of things the players had made up that I wanted to expand upon:
– Snargle‘s story of how his brother was saved by a Sky Squid after he sacrificed a potato to it resurfaced in the guise of Crazy Rufus Pickett, a Sky Squid shaman covered in potato peels who was part of the Church of the Potato
– Kale’s story had included a lot of debts inherited from his parents, and his drive to pay for them to spare his little sister. Kale’s sister Serra wasn’t going to just be rescued, though. I had a lot of ideas for her.
– Cyrus had mentioned many times that he was quite the ladies man – I wanted to put that to the test with some more lady action!
The game opened with a sexy bounty huntress slapping Cyrus, kissing him, then putting her gun to his head and saying “Give me one reason why I shouldn’t go for the “Or Dead” option on your bounty, Cyrus?”. Cyrus started well with “I can give you two: my big blue eyes”. Unfortunately the rest of the conversation went less smoothly!
We really put starting player Geert and his smooth talking skills through the wringer this session. I was reminded of my first games and how tempting it was to play the utterly cool dude – but then finding out that I also had to play the part *and* provide my own lines! After a few tries, I tended to stick to affable losers – much easier to do :)
She took him to her private quarters to see if he was able to cough up more than his ransom was worth, and maybe to get seduced by him. They did not get it on, but his promises of fortune did get him a cell next to Lady Blackbird. Meanwhile, Emma Blackbird had been getting info off of the prisoners and bribed a guard to bring Rufus to her. When Cyrus was brought in, she asked him why he looked battered and um… hickey-ed. Cyrus goes into great detail about his sordid love life, but then claims none of this matters anymore because he is in love with her!
Kale was stuck in the prison for the plebs (pretty much the prison from Guardians of the Galaxy). Here he had some fun with the rivaling gangs before running into his sister Serra! She explains she has been stuck here for a year, also wanted for their family debts, and that they’ll be turned over to the stone mines soon. Obviously Kale won’t let that happen! Serra leads him to Crazy Rufus, who is sporting an insane deserted island look and is covered in potato peels. He knows the secret of the true course, the Sky Squid have told him. And he wants nothing more than to go INTO THE DEPTHS!
It was fun to play Crazy Rufus. I read somewhere that if you’re improv GM’ing, you shouldn’t spend time on crafting delicate voices and mannerisms for your NPCs, only do them if they come naturally and require little effort. Seems like a good rule of thumb.
Meanwhile, Snargle and Naomi have become an unlikely duo, infiltrating the Scarlet Keep. Naomi tries to get Snargle to man up a bit but Snargle is keen to let the wookie win. Eventually they get a rapport and infiltrate the keep as janitors. That lasts about five minutes as a former pit-fighter in the mess hall of bounty hunters recognises her and think it’s hilarious that his former rival is working as a cleaning lady now. Naomi gives him some lip but then tries to run – and he publically challenges her. The bounty hunters, slightly confused about why someone would want to fight the cleaning lady, make the customary circle. While Naomi makes a show of things, Snargle steals people’s keys. After she finally deals with her rival, all eyes are on her. So she announces that she was here to become a bounty hunter after all! She is invited to some extensive dealing and loots her rival’s body for his stuff. Then she and Snargle go on their way. They find out you can only enter the prison blocks with a bounty, so Snargle Chewbakka’s up into a big and menacing looking goblin. Once inside, they quickly find Kale, Serra and Crazy Rufus. They make a deal with the prison gangs: if Naomi opens the way, they will take over as much of the keep as they can.
Their escape goes quite smoothly, but the Scarlet Keep has one last suprise in store for them. The floors start trembling and shaking and when they finally see a window they see sky. The Keep is rising up into the sky! Snargle manages to squeeze out of a tiny porthole and make a run for the Owl (cunningly hidden under a cloaking net). The rest are stuck looking for an airlock and are quite a bit above ground when they do. Lady Blackbird uses her Stormblood to featherfall everyone down. As the keep fires at them, the Owl rises over the horizon and provides cover fire.
I takes a week to sail to the Remnants. The players asked if they could do an entire round of refreshment scenes, since everyone was out of pool dice. Awesome! The entire ship was soon exploding with drama. When questioned about his markings, Cyrus repeats his confession of love to Lady Blackbird in front of everyone (which the crew kind of approves of, but Naomi sure doesn’t); Lady Blackbird confesses to Cyrus that she is travelling to Uriah Flint to marry him and that he is “making things complicated”. Naomi tries to get Kale’s sister Emma to make a play for Cyrus. She does (by now she firmly looks like Saffron from Firefly in my head) but was kindly rebuffed. Snargle is mightily confused by so much human drama, and copes by putting everyone on the ship’s intercom whenever they have an emotional conversation.
Rufus and Kale summon the Sky Squid that runs them through the remnants, all Snargle has to do is follow. Not an easy feat but he is a leaf on the wind – watch how he soars! At the other side of the Remnants, they see that Uriah Flint has been gathering an armada of ships.
He is very happy to see Emma Blackbird and wants to speak to him privately in his room covered in maps with all the imperial planets wiped off. The group is happy Uriah Flint is taking the fight to the empire, but less happy when they find out the ships are piloted by skeletons, and their own ship has been forcibly commandeered. Meanwhile, Emma Blackbird rejects Uriah Flint, saying there is someone else. At that awkward moment Cyrus Vance’s invisibility drops. He is very gloaty about being the other man and a fistfight breaks out.
Now, the session was going great so far, but this is where I’m not happy. At this point we were running short on time, so what I should have done was reveal Uriah for an undead monster, had the group fight him and end the session there. But I had found my groove for Uriah and was stuck in it, and was enjoying the shades of grey and moral conflict, and didn’t want to pull into a cartoony evil hero. My bad, it would have fit the genre and would have been a good ending.
Naomi breaks up the fight along with Snargle and Kale (with Serra on their heels). They confront Uriah with his undead army and he explains he has to fight the Empire with all he’s got. The group is torn but eventually even Naomi admits wiping out planets with an undead armada is not the way. While they forge yet another plan, Kale’s sister Serra loads up a sticky grenade, throws it at Uriah and yells “run!”. She explains “His bounty was bigger than all of yours, and someone has to pay our debts”. Kale was never more proud. As they run away from the explosion, they realise they will be making their third daring and impossible escape – and we cut on our Butch Cassidy moment.
Thus concludes my first run of Lady Blackbird. My second run starts next week! This scenario is remarkable in a lot of ways, but the coolest thing is that it makes GM’ing look easy (and it is!) and thus gets many people excited about giving it a try. That alone makes it worth the price of admission (also, it’s free!).