Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Free Hump Day - Lady Blackbird

My Player Monday posts have gotten some great responses and feedback, so I've decided to expand out the idea of doing regular columns on a weekly basis. For Wednesdays I'm going to start posting about the many, many, MANY amazing completely free products that are available online through both major publishers and produced independently. The big inspiration obviously comes from this past Saturday's (awesome) Free RPG Day. There's a lot of stuff that goes unnoticed out there, so I thought a spotlight on these adventures, game systems, and inspirational art pieces would be great both for you as the consumer and you as the game designer. That being said, these aren't going to be reviews so much as a brief description combined with why I chose it for the week's Free Hump Day post. If you've got a product you'd like to see featured here, just shoot me a quick email.

To inaugurate Free Hump Day I want to talk about a game and proto-setting that has me really excited. I know it's not exactly new, but still, I want to see more people playing and talking about it. Lady Blackbird is a 16 page pdf that contains a brand new setting, pre-generated characters, an original rule system, and an outline for a mega-adventure. If that doesn't grab your attention, the setting is a clever, original mish-mash of steampunk, Firefly, and Star Wars. Take a look at the Owl up there to the right. That's your Millennium Falcon, and the pre-generated characters do a great job of replicating some great pulpy space opera tropes while also addressing the needs of a basic skyship fantasy setting. There's magic and goblins, but there's also an evil empire with huge capital ships and guns 'n' stuff.

Why Should I Care? That's the big question with every free item out there. Lady Blackbird offers, in the very least, a solid adventure in a setting with enough specifics to dig your teeth into but enough freedom to really make your own. The real appeal here, however, lies in the game engine. I'm quite taken with its simple and elegant design that evokes the players to really play to and engage with the pre-generated characters. There's a very concrete reward system for interacting with the other player characters. What's really exciting is how simple and intuitive the system is.

Each character has their own unique set of attributes and special skills that are far more descriptive than your standard constitution/intellect/dexterity etc. For example, Natasha Syri, the eponymous Lady Blackbird herself has traits of Imperial Noble and Master Sorcerer to compliment her Athletic, Charm, and Cunning traits. Within each trait are further tags giving more personality to the traits such as Etiquette and Dance for the Imperial trait or Deception and Codes for Cunning. The real trick here is that each tag - every one belonging to a major a trait - may be used in a trait test.

Beyond that, the rules are literally half a page long and fit on every pre-generated character sheet. From the GM's perspective, not only does this make it very easy to be the rules arbitrator, but the NPCs and general challenges are very simple and defined almost entirely by the single target number needed to overcome them and how a character can do so. The only complain I have about the whole package is that I want more, and like every good free product out there, it's whetted my appetite to the point where I would gladly pay money to get it.

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