There were a few games I was specifically looking forward to playing this year at GenCon: Lady Blackbird (I managed to play in a hack of it, at least), Inspectres, & Apocalypse World.
I’d heard good things about Lady Blackbird, so I was looking forward to having the chance to play it. Unfortunately I didn’t get that chance, but I did get to play in a hack of it. So, instead of playing in more of a steampunk/Victorian-type setting, the characters were all spies in the 60’s. Note: you can get the rules for Lady Blackbird here for free.
I’d like to be able to compare the hack with the original material. Luckily the system is simple enough that I think it will be able to handle a lot of different situations pretty well.
The system’s pretty simple — seriously, take a look at the link above and check out the pdf. The rules take up half of the character sheet. The rules are simple, elegant, & interesting.
When you want to do something in game, grab a die (d6) and if you have an applicable trait, add another d6. And if that trait has any tags add a d6 per tag that applicable. Get creative! It’s easy to put yourself in situations where you can make good use of your available traits/tags. On top of that you have some amount of personal pool dice that you can add to any roll. Those go away as they succeed and there are ways to refresh that pool, with what’s called a refreshment scene — maybe you have a quick scene with another character and play out a bit of interesting dialog.
The other thing you have at your disposal are secrets. These are little bits that flesh out your character. They give you some direction as far as how to play your character and you also earn experience in game for doing so. I thought the secrets mechanic worked quite well in the spy setting. We had spies from all walks of life: spies from America, England, France, Russia, & German. All (tentatively) working together toward some goal, but with different reasons for doing so, which turned into little side missions coming up.
I absolutely want to play Lady Blackbird at some point. And it’s free, check it out!
EDIT: The Operation Blackbird hack can be found here.
Picture Ghostbusters in a corporate environment and you won’t be far of from the premise of Inspectres. Characters are running a franchise of InSpectres. Can you deal with the day-to-day corporate bullshit while saving the city from paranormal activity?
Seriously, take a second to think about that premise. It’s fucking hilarious.
Even only playing one game (under the superb direction of Mike Holmes), I’m confident that if you’re playing this game and not laughing you’re Doing It Wrong.
Mechanics of the game are simple enough you have a pool of dice based on skill, take the highest die. Based on how well you do the GM references a table. You might do really well, you might do well with some mess ups, or you might fail utterly (note: the GM doesn’t ever need to roll dice). Fictional elements are added as you roll the dice — you add to the narration as you do well and the GM can tell you what goes wrong if you roll poorly.
Probably the best mechanic of the game is The Confessional. A player can call for a confessional, at which point the action kind of pauses. Picture a reality show where you have one of the people one-on-one with the camera as they talk about what’s happening in the show. That’s what happens in the confessional. You address the other characters and you narrate how a scene plays out, while giving the player free reign to introduce new elements and twists. I’ll borrow a page out of Mike’s playbook here — when a player calls for their confessional, have them move their chair back and have the rest of the players spread out in front of them. The confessing player should pretend they’re addressing a camera/audience. Stay in character! It’s a fantastic moment.
Make sure to check out the link above, you can get a free pdf of the startup rules to try out the game.
I feel like I really need another taste of Apocalypse World before I can offer a more fleshed out opinion. But first, at least check out the back cover pitch. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Right, so maybe you know a little more about it than before you started reading. I will say I find it intriguing. Like a lot of gamers I’m a huge fan of anything post-apocalyptic. The world is fucked and resources are scarce.
Characters in AW are unique. There may be other guys with biker gangs, but you’re the only Chopper. You’re different. You stand out.
I already talked a bit about the mechanics when I posted about Dungeon World (maybe I did that backwards), but it’s pretty simple. If you’re doing something in game, it’s a “move” and you roll 2d6 to do so (plus any modifiers, usually between -3 & +3). 7 and up is a hit. 10+ you do great, no worries. 7-9 you succeed with some sort of complication, usually making room for the GM to make a move of some sort against you. Failing outright lets the GM make a harder move against you — this might be the difference in someone pulling a gun on you or just shooting you.
At the link above you can find playbooks for some of the characters in Apocalypse World. If you’re interested browse through those and get an idea about the sorts of things you can do. Like I said, character types are unique, so in a given group there can only be one of each type
One thing that’s really cool is every character has “Hx” with every other character. I think it’s normally just referred to as history. During character creation you get to flesh out how you know the other characters and find out what sort of past they have. If you take a look at the play sheets above check out some of the characters Hx section, it gives an idea of the sorts of relationships that get built among the party. After character creation you’ll have some number (either positive, negative or zero) for every character at the table. Keep in mind it’s not necessarily reciprocal — it’s entirely possible for character A to have HX+3 for character B, but B only has HX+1 for A. In that case it means A is more familiar with B! And given some of the character-types that makes quite a lot of sense. In the course of play you can choose to aid or interfere with another character, so you make an Hx roll, which is 2d6+HX. The more history you have with someone the easier it is to help or get in their way.
Like I said, I’d like to come back to Apocalypse World at some point. I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the demo I was in, but I got a decent taste of it. Unfortunately Vincent wasn’t at GenCon this year so I couldn’t get a copy of it, but I’ve currently got a copy on order, so hopefully I’ll have that soon enough.