Friday, July 9, 2010

May the Blackbird be with you

Last night I played in a one-shot called "New Hope" that was sort of set in the Star Wars Universe, and used mechanics somewhat based on the indy RPG "Lady Blackbird".

It was set several years after Return of the Jedi, and the New Republic was every bit as as nasty as the Empire had ever been. Everything you recall from the movies was just Republican propaganda. It was an interesting twist on the Star Wars setting as seen through the perspective of The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again." It was a good game and plenty fun, but could probably have used a stronger opening scene. The GM vaguely explained the situation, but since it's a game where the Players have a lot of narrative power, he left most of the details fuzzy at first. He was trying to leave us free to take things in whatever direction we wanted, but as a result, we had a really slow start. I think if he'd narrated the opening situation more forcefully and given us a memorable villain to really hate, the first hour of the game would have been a lot better.

The rules were really interesting. They were derived from or inspired by Lady Blackbird, which is an indy game I was ignorant of until last night. I downloaded it this morning and took a peek through it, and I can tell that New Hope customized and built on it quite a bit. Overall, I think the changes were good ones. That said, I kind of felt like the GM's backlash dice pools were just a little too small. I think they could stand to range from 5 to 9 instead of 4 to 8. It's hard to say for certain, because we had some really lucky rolls on the players part. I just think the game would have been in it's best possible light, if the PCs had taken 25% more damage across the board and had to start worrying about resources and situations. I was the only one really hurt badly during the game, and that was only because I took some very big risks and painted a target on myself. I was so intrigued by the damage system I intentionally left myself open to suffer more of it.

My favorite part of the rules were definitely the "hit points"-like mechanism, which were customized to each character and really made you agonize over damage. You had three rows of labeled boxes. The first row was more like traditional HP, or like a World of Darkness health boxes, in that they were labeled "Hurt", "Wounded", "Crippled" and "Dead" or something to that effect. Below that was a row that had to do with our social status and the level of pursuit, so they were "Recognized", "Wanted", "Hunted" and "Infamous", I think. Then the fourth row were customized to each PC. My character had a wife and family - their health and safety were 5 of my 6 boxes in the third section. When you take damage, it's usually 1 or two points, and you get to apply them to any empty box that seems appropriate. So in a bar-fight I'd probably take the damage as physical damage in the top row, but I might instead take it in the second row and narrate that I was now a wanted man for having killed the person I was struggling with. If my family was present during a conflict, I might knock boxes off of them and say they were captured or harmed in the battle. One of the other characters was a rich man, and he took damage to his wealth when he got backlash off a roll to bribe someone. Having these custom consequences for each character was pretty cool, and really spiced up the conflicts. I may just have to steal the idea sometime.

Overall, it was good fun, and I'd definitely recommend it if you like the free-form "story game" narrative approach to role-playing. The RPG it was closest too in feel (at least of RPGs I'd played before) was probably Universalis, and I imagine if you like that you'll probably get a kick out of New Hope (or Lady Blackbird). It had more structure than Universalis, but appealed to the same mental space and had a similar spirit.

You can download New Hope for free.

You can also download Lady Blackbird for free.


Mark said...

Thanks so much for participating in the playtest, and for reviewing it here!

I'm making changes based on the player feedback, including a menu of "opening scenes" to choose from to get the jump-start going more forcefully.

Glad you enjoyed it, and thanks for helping me make the game better!

Jamie said...

Not to mention the Regulator Corsair wasn't really "your" mission - you guys did that one for free!

I've only run a freeform game once before, a game of In A Wicked Age that went terribly because one of the players just didn't get it, so I was stoked to see you guys rock it. I wonder if freeform only works in groups of people-who-have-GM'd-before...

r_b_bergstrom said...

I wonder if freeform only works in groups of people-who-have-GM'd-before...

That would make sense. It could, however, be something that changes from day to day. We were kinda shaky at first. Figuring out the limits of what the group will go for can be a little intimidating. If our group was any indication, once one person gets brave and starts running full steam, everybody else tends to be inspired by that and the game starts to rock.