Lady Blackbird Hack Actual Play

image from ArtBreeder

filed under actual play on 09 Dec 2016
tagged trollbabe, stranger things, lady blackbird, narrative, declan, and demonblood

After wending my way from Trollbabe to Stranger Things, it was inevitable that I’d find my way to Lady Blackbird (and the excellent The Lady Blackbird Companion). Up front, I will say, this system is amazing. Flat out brilliant. It might just be the most perfect fit for my solo play style that I’ve found yet.

So of course I hacked it, without even trying it out first, and then labeled the result an “Actual Play” just to add insult to injury, ha.

I’ve added a table of things to purchase with success dice, inspired of course by Otherkind and S\lay w/Me. This is a mechanic I think works amazingly well in a solo format; it gives very clear direction for the “GM/director” but also allows for some wiggle room for the “player”.

I also brought in Rerolls from Stranger Things. Initially, I intended to use them as actual rerolls, but that seemed unworkable and so in play they became a way to add extra dice to a roll, which I really liked.

One issue I did run into was while applying Conditions; my mind keeps dividing them into two groups, “Hits” (health, hp, hd, a clear progressive track from bruised to dead) and “Everything Else” (status effects, things like blind or dazed or confused or angry or lost or hungry).

On the one hand, keeping it divided like that and having clear mechanisms for triggering Hits conditions reinforces the “game” aspect, but on the other, it removes some wiggle room on a series of really bad rolls. On balance, I’m thinking I’ll keep it somewhat divided but allow myself a little more wiggle room in the future. Maybe codify when to call for what type of Condition better.

I also moved this sequence of games into their own category, which likely means there will be more!

The adventure begins...

I've changed over to what's essentially Lady Blackbird with some some house rules and new traits. I have to say, I really like LB -- it's like B/X for hackability, only with a narrative focus.

I ended up one Trait short so I just marked it down as XP to spend for later. My gut feeling is the amount of overlap and number of tags in my homebrew Traits will make them very powerful, but that seems pretty fitting for a solo game about a half-demon.

It was a ton of fun converting the character -- this is version three of three different (four if you count Trollbabe and Stranger Things independently) systems.

The main house rule I'm using is a "allot dice" system that I hope will make it easier for me to adjudicate things when I'm wearing the director hat. I'm also going to try incorporating rerolls as a concrete way of moving myself down the injury track.

Ok, so, when I last left off, my half-demon hero had just dispatched a warrior ghost at the behest of his unwilling host.

Now he gets to freeload on them for as long as they put up with him ("the duration of his stay") and three days after that. When they finally tell him to leave, he'll acknowledge the start of the three days, take provisions for them, and go, at least if things stay as they are now.

So, first, the great feast. Seems pretty straightforward.

The way demon magic works -- and it's really neat I was able to model this in Lady Blackbird terms so easily -- is if Declan has a bargain with someone, minor magic is pretty much effortless as long as it facilitates that bargain in some way.

I'll talk more about major magic if it comes up later, it also requires a bargain.

I think I'll grab a few random results, see if I can get some ideas for the feast. Obviously the king's warriors won't be thrilled to be upstaged.

An insolent innocent wants to survive at all costs but can't have it because of poverty, so will trick a demon hunter in order to strike quickly.

The decision to sacrifice a maid by a greedy entertainer sparks a reckless fighter to answer a call to arms. This hurts a miserable wanderer who is fleeing a love interest.

A repressed fighter is obsessed with a maimed renegade. Can a graceful spy hunting traps overcome dark secrets and a blood oath?

Ok, I rolled up about ten options; the three I liked best I kept (by setting the rest ephemeral). The first two seem like they probably speak directly to my hero (demon hunter, miserable wanderer who is fleeing a love interest).

[New Actor] Spare Names, no content yet

Since I need all my tracker slots to actually track stuff with this system!

... and I just spent way too much time making a new character sheet style for this format, with traits and tags.

So that gives me a handful of potential new actors.

Ok, I think I'm ready to begin. It's always hard to get things moving at first.


You enjoy yourself immensely at the feast that follows. The hall stinks of humans and sheep and stale beer, but the fire is roaring and warm and they've broken out the good venison and decent ale.

The women, too, seem much more friendly now that you've proven yourself a brave warrior. No doubt the fog that seems to protect human minds when they encounter something unnatural is working in your favor in that department.

One group of giggling maids in particular seems to be quite taken with you, and the choicest meats and constant refilling of your glass and deep curtseys have not gone unnoticed by several of the dark, scowling warriors who likely have been displaced by your boldness.


I keep my head down, raising my cup in a toast when everyone else does, pretending not to see any flirtatious looks or any scowling ones. No sense rocking the boat; I can stay until they tell me to leave so I might as well make it last as long as I can.


I think this party needs some excitement. And then some more excitement after that.

You notice that one of the warriors, older than the rest and with the scars of battle across his face, isn't paying you any attention. Following his gaze, you see he's watching the Bishop, who is clearly staring at someone at the king's table.

You risk a quick glance; the object of the Bishop's attention is a young woman, barely out of girlhood.

That's the reckless fighter and the maid and the entertainer, right there.

[Visible Quirk] many hair braids

[Visible Quirk] broken limb

Her hair is the color of spun gold, braided into intricate braids that speak to hours of leisure. The warrior-king's daughter, perhaps.

Make a roll to see if your scrutiny goes unobserved.


Let's see. First LB roll ever so it might take me a minute. Okay, start with 1 die, add one for Stranger in a Strange Land, one for Diplomacy, and one for Perceptive.

I think the difficulty should pretty much always be 3 unless it seems like it'd be much harder -- it's a crowded, fire-lit room with lots of people drinking and doing boisterous feasting, so it's not hard to go unnoticed, but he is under scrutiny so it's not trivial either.

Going to put 3 reserve towards it.

Rolling 7d6 1 times.
[ 5 2 3 4 4 3 4 ] 25

Four successes, so in standard LB I'd succeed. Since I'm using my own variant, I instead can purchase aspects of success.

I'll put three dice towards achieving the goal; that leaves me one, which I'll put towards "No Conditions". Which means there'll be a Complication, related or not.

A tankard the size of your head slams down on the table in front of you, clutched in a grimy fist the size of a ham. "Will you drink with us?" the warrior attached to it bellows at you. He's slurring a bit, obviously having started the festivities earlier than you did.


Well, we established in the prologue it'd take some pretty serious or magical beverages to get our hero drunk. I doubt these fellows know that, and I equally doubt they're into poison.

I grin in the friendliest way I know how, hoist the tankard up, give a general toast, and try to drink the stuff as fast as I can. It tastes like pond water off a duck's --

Is it poisoned?

[fifty-fifty, 80 ≥ 50] NO

I'm going to roll, to see if I can drink this stuff down fast enough to impress them. I'll lean on my Athletics Trait, so base one, plus one, plus my secret to let me add from another Trait, Stranger in a Strange Land. Going to add "That reminds me" and Diplomacy. Kind of a reach but this is not my hero's forte.

Plus two of my reserve dice, because why not.

Rolling 6d6 1 times.
[ 3 5 4 4 2 6 ] 24

Four successes, nice. I'll succeed at goal and make it "with style", but take a a Condition -- Nauseated -- and a Complication.

I'm grateful to see the bottom of the tankard. I slam it down on the table; the big warrior claps me on the back hard enough I almost end up in my food. "Good man, for an outsider," he booms and wanders off in search of someone else to torment.


The pond water they call beer sits in your stomach like a rock. Mortal brews are not something you are particularly familiar with, but you have a feeling you're about to get the chance to examine this one for a second time.

You gracefully climb to your feet and make your way over to the door, hoping you can make it outside before then. A slender form blocks your path, firelight gleaming off golden braids.

"I wanted to thank you for helping us," she says.


Why are you so mean?

I'm going to muster all my diplomacy to get out of this one as quickly as I can without giving offense.

Which is base one dice, plus one for SiaSL, one for "That reminds me..." because he's done this before, one for Diplomacy, and one for Outsider because she's maybe inclined to cut him some slack for his different outsider ways. Plus my last 2 reserve dice.

Rolling 7d6 1 times.
[ 3 1 6 1 1 5 5 ] 22

Well, that's unfortunate. 1 success.

I fail at the goal, absolutely. So she's offended, or at least somebody is. You know what, screw it, I'm going to do it with style, and take the Complication and Condition from failing.

"Move," I say, forcefully but quietly so only she will hear. Her eyes go wide with shock at my temerity even as she takes a step back, but I have no time to explain.

As quickly as I can I make my way to the side of the building, where the torch light won't reach, and am violently ill.

After, I lean against the rough wood building, feeling miserable, as the stench of the pond water beer muddying my boots fills the air. One thought fills my head along with the lingering queasiness. I don't belong here.


Ok, you're still feeling queasy, and now you're also feeling bruised. So check off the first box on your health track.

Complications, so many to choose from. How about a random event? Oh, and don't forget, the DC is harder by one now by default.

You got to keep your two reserve dice though, because you failed the goal.

[Random Event] Context: World! An actor's long term plans begin to bear fruit. This is bad with some good.

That's a tough one, since I'm not aware of any actors or long term goals! I think I have an idea of what to do with it. Let's get a more specific Complication for you in particular.

I should pick a category using Pick List.

[List Options] action, social, weird,

[Choice] action

[Random Event] Context: Action! An unexpected enemy attacks from ambush. This is bad.

That seems pretty straightforward.

Does the demon hunter jump Declan while he's alone and wallowing in misery?

[fifty-fifty, 90 ≥ 50] NO

A heavy hand falls on your shoulder, spinning you around, and a meaty fist flies towards your face.


Difficulty at 4, hmm.

Is this one of the King's sworn men?

[fifty-fifty, 15 ≤ 50] YES

So it's a direct violation of the bargain; my hero could theoretically invoke the bargain at cost to the king, meaning any damage he would take goes to the king instead.

However, that would pretty much get him ousted, since the bargain's the only thing keeping him here. So instead he'll suck up whatever damage he has to. Athletics, then, plus Reflexes, Quick, Fisticuffs.

Rolling 5d6 1 times.
[ 4 5 1 2 4 ] 16

Three successes. I need to start stating my goal more clearly, but in this case it's "not take a punch to the face from a pissed off Celtic warrior" and that seems pretty straightforward.

Also, three isn't enough to achieve the goal. But I can buy off any conditions, any complications, and do it all with style! Still taking a punch to the face, but at least I'm not going to end up unconscious in the mud.


I'm too slow; I feel wrung out and I wasn't expecting an attack here, and I don't even come close to dodging. I'm knocked back hard.

I marked off my Wounded box; I'm going to invoke one of my Resources to get an extra die to the next roll.

I don't need to wipe a hand across the back of my mouth to know it's bleeding, and I am suddenly very angry.


How many of them? One?

[More or Less] A bit more than expected.

So two. That's not great odds but hey, you're mad, you can take 'em.

There are two of them, two of the dark-haired, scowling warriors who have taken it personally that you faced the ghost and they didn't. They spread out a little, one of them a few feet back, the other -- the one who hit you -- sneering at you.


"Too bad you couldn't sucker punch the ghost, eh?" I say, arching an eyebrow as I peel myself off the wall. The second warrior backs up a little, more at his companion's reaction than at my words.

Which is anger. Good, he'll be more likely to act rashly. "I'll tell you what," I suggest. "I'll let you take another blow, for free even, and then I'll hurt you in ways you've never even imagined. Deal?"

That's definitely Demonblood, plus Promise, Bargain, Impassion. Five, plus my last two reserve dice, plus my one for spending a Resource.

Versus a 4 difficulty. I want him to agree, even if just tacitly by hitting me.

Rolling 8d6 1 times.
[ 1 5 1 5 4 1 2 5 ] 24

Wow. That's a very bad roll. Two True dice isn't even close, so I fail; no bargain struck. I'll buy off the Complication and Condition, though.


He starts to answer, leaning back for another punch, and his friend grabs his arm. "Don't be a fool," he says. "You almost walked right into a deal with him."

[Visible Quirk] distinctive jewelry

You look his friend over with a bit more care; he's canny, for all that he looks very much the part of a dumb, brutish human warrior. He's wearing a distinctive armband of iron. It looks like a fetish against the fae; and one that might just have some power to it.

Hey, I think I hit my half-breed key XP for my half-breed key, too; it was definitely almost a scene changer.


"We seem to be at an impasse," I say, casually, as if I couldn't care less. "But by all means, go ahead and see what happens."

I wrestle with my anger. I would like to goad this fool into my power, but I also don't want to jeopardize my standing here.


Does anything happen to interrupt?

[fifty-fifty, 99 ≥ 91] Exceptional NO

Shadows flicker in the torchlight as the two of them fade back a few steps, arguing heatedly about whether or not smashing your face in qualifies as accepting a deal, and whether or not their God will protect them if so.

You take advantage of their inattention to dart back out onto the path, into the light of the torches, and then back into the great hall. The feast is still going full swing, and nobody notices you as you slip down the hall to the guest quarters you've been assigned.

Okay, that's the end of the scene. Moved things along a little, but didn't reveal much yet. I liked how Resources worked, but I'm thinking since they're a finite resource the reward should be a little higher. Maybe a single True die? They are capped at 5 checked at a time, too.

A quick review shows I probably should have put Angry as a Condition when I tagged it as a Resource, but I think it's ok. I've rearranged my tracker a little so all the possible Conditions are there, leaving some, like Angry or Afraid, to be added as needed.

I'm going to split things; Declan will get back his Resource and lose Nauseated, since he's just going right to sleep, but I won't replenish Reserve until the end of the scene. And I know just the scene to get him in trouble...

You fall across the bed, fleetingly grateful they have managed to invent them, and quickly sink into a deep, dreamless sleep. Which is abruptly broken by the touch of hot wax, cool against your skin, and the sudden knowledge that someone is staring down at you.


Interesting. Do I tackle them, hoping to catch them off guard? Yeah, I do.

Athletics, I think. Plus Acrobatics, Quiet, Stealth, Reflexes, Quick... I'm not trying to hurt them, just grapple them, though.

Would Fisticuffs apply in that case?

[fifty-fifty, 2 ≤ 10] Exceptional YES

So that's a good 8! Difficulty is a 4, since I'm Wounded. Heck, I'll put my Reserves in too.

Rolling 10d6 1 times.
[ 1 3 4 2 2 6 1 1 3 2 ] 25

Five successes, I'll definitely get a succeed at goal. Leaving me one to purchase something with... I'll do it with style.

I catch the wrist attached to the candle and flip the watcher over, pinning them to the bed effortlessly.


Rolling 1d100 1 times.
[ 68 ] 68

Defiant green eyes meet yours, under a mass of tousled spun gold hair, still braided around the front but otherwise loose. Ganeth's daughter, you think, confused and a little befuddled from sleep.

Ok, Condition: Turned On. Complication. Where did that candle go?


Well, I'm fireproof, so I don't care if the whole place burns down around us... but she probably would care, and it would attract a lot of attention. There's no way an able-bodied human has to roll to put out a candle.

I lower my mouth towards hers, tempted, and then the smell of smoke registers. Cursing, I roll away and look for the candle, which has ended up inconveniently under a table.

When I get back, she's sitting up, still looking a bit defiant and a little scared. I sit down on the edge of the bed, ignoring her as she shrinks away. At this point, I really, really just want to go back to sleep.


Not going to bite, I see.

Well, fine. She's kind of a spoiled brat anyway.

"I demand to know why you insulted me earlier," she says, when it become apparent you're not going to ask. Her chin is up and you have to stifle a laugh -- is this really about a few rude words?


She doesn't seem amused. I sigh. "Your beer makes me physically ill," I said shortly. "I needed some fresh air." I give her a look over my shoulder. "And you were in the way."

I'm going to try to read desire on her, I think. That's three...

Does Seduction or Devilishly Attractive help?

[fifty-fifty, 68 ≥ 50] NO

Oh, fine. Can't succeed with only three dice on a four difficulty. Oh, I'll put Darkvision in, that bumps to four. Still a long shot but eh.

Rolling 4d4 1 times.
[ 1 2 4 3 ] 10

Only two, fine, I fail, but I avoid Complication and Condition.

I need to add a reward in for risking failure; how about a reserve die back if you roll without any reserve dice? I'll think about it a little.

I try to gauge her motives but she's surprisingly opaque -- and I'm too tired and distracted to focus properly.


"It was very rude," she says, and you suddenly notice she's wearing nothing but a sheer white nightgown. Is she really that naive? You find it hard to believe anyone could be.


My patience ends. "Who sent you, and why?" I demand, and she shrinks back a little.

I climb off the bed and over to my sword, buckling it around my waist, then begin throwing my few belongings into my travel sack. I cast around for my shirt but it isn't readily at hand -- where did I drop it?

"What are you doing?" she asks, and I spare her a glance.

"I'm leaving, before I get entangled in whatever schemes you've hatched," I say impatiently. "I've no interest in childish games."


She bounces over to you, fairly quivering with outrage. "How dare you," she says, her eyes flashing. "I came here in... in good faith... to..." Her words trail off as she falters.

You give her a cold look.

"Oh, hells," she says, her expression crestfallen. "I have made a good and proper ass of myself, haven't I?" And she starts to cry.

Now who's the mean one? You made the princess cry!


I pull her into my arms and pat her back, making hopefully soothing noises as she cries into my shoulder. Comforting is not one of my areas of expertise.

Eventually she leans back and looks up at me. Her eyes and nose are red and her hair is messy and I can't help but smile at her. "It's not so bad," I say, and she smiles tentatively back.


Okay, that's enough lovey-dovey stuff. Let's shake things up. Remember that random event earlier, where an actor's plans come to fruition?

The ghost wasn't a threat, it was a warning.

You smell smoke again; this time stronger. Hear the rising screams of panic and pain from the great hall -- the combination reminds you suddenly, disorientingly, of home. The girl looks confused. "What is that?"

Fire licks at the walls and ceilings of the hall. You dash towards the great hall, skidding to a stop in the doorway. King Ganeth's warriors, led by the King himself, fight a veritable army of ghosts much like the one you faced before.

There are too many of them for you to defeat in combat, even with your unique talents. Across the width of the hall, the king looks up from the sea of skeletal foes swarming around him. Blood streams from countless wounds, and his face is grim. Spotting the girl behind you, his expression turns to fear.

"All that I have," he says, his voice clear and carrying, "If you protect my daughter."

Half a dozen of the ghosts surge towards you, swords raised.


Ok, I'm going to use some resources -- an ally, twice -- and try to hold the hallway against the six ghosts. Hopefully only two will be able to attack at a time.

My own sword is in hand as I sweep the girl behind me, blocking the hall. To my left and right I see some of Ganeth's warriors, grimly hacking at the sorcery-spawned ghosts.

So, Athletics, Swordplay, Reflexes, Quick. +2 from allies.

Rolling 7d6 1 times.
[ 6 5 6 5 1 4 4 ] 31

Regret going with even/odd instead of 4+ now!

Still, enough for the goal.

Back to Wounded.

I cut one of the ghosts down, but the other's blade opens a gash along my ribs.


You take a step back as one of the roof beams, weakened by flame, collapses, filling the hall with smoke and cinders. The girl is coughing, as are the warriors fighting by your side. More of the ghosts advance, swords ready.


"I accept," I say regretfully, and feel the familiar, almost comforting bonds of a deal close around me. I can't save all of them, but I can save some.

I want to teleport myself, the girl, and both warriors to safety, with the power of the bargain as fuel.

That's Demonblood, plus Promise, Deliver, Bargain, and I'm going to lay down a Spiritual Scar to fuel it; on Ganeth, since he incurred the deal. Use up my third resource, too -- supernatural effect or ability. I need a 4.

One more Resource -- the fae charm, an "element". And my final Resource, an emotion, fear. Using up my last Resource adds a Condition, too.

Afer that, I'm tapped. No more Reserve, no more Resources, and the next step out is "Dying".

Rolling 8d6 1 times.
[ 5 3 1 5 5 3 2 1 ] 25


One success. Not only do I fail to teleport us all out, I can only buy off one thing, the Condition, I think, since I can't afford any more hits.

I reach out for the magic granted by the bargain, and a wall of white flame whips out across my senses like a knife. It feels like my very nerves are being burned out, my fingers going numb as I stagger, trying to keep my feet.

One of the ghost swords slips through my defenses, catching me a grazing blow along the temple. I parry the second blow, and then I do the only sensible thing; I turn, scoop the girl up, and run like hell.

Condition: Hunted. Resources: 0. I did get an XP for a deal though.

I want to escape from the building, with the girl, and the warriors, and get a good distance away to safety.

Athletics, Acrobatics, Reflexes, Quick, Parkour, plus I'll use my Secret, and add Darkvision, Fireproof, Nonflammable, Hot-Blooded, and Strong. Now I'm REALLY out of stuff to throw at a problem.

Nice to know I can pull 11d6 out if I really need it, though. Technically I could make that an 18 if I absolutely had to and had reserve dice left.

Rolling 11d6 1 times.
[ 1 6 4 3 5 4 1 1 2 4 1 ] 32

Five successes, not great, but enough to buy the success and eliminate either a Complication or a Condition. Going to have to be the Condition, since now I REALLY can't afford any more hits.


Ok, the Complication is going to be that, while you succeed at leading yourself, the girl, and the two warriors out of the burning ghost-infested building, a couple of the ghosts follow you (you're hunted, remember).

You somehow manage to get the two of you out of the building before it collapses in flame entirely. Staggering into the treeline, you have barely a moment to gasp in a few gulps of fresh air before two of the ghosts are upon you.


Mental note, Refreshment scenes are important.

I attempt to defeat them; failing that, I'll at least interpose myself between them and the girl.

My arms tire; how many have I cut down? They seem faded and weak in the moonlight, and yet their blows still sting, their swords still cut, and they still hunger...

Rolling 6d6 1 times.
[ 1 3 1 3 3 5 ] 16

That's a complete failure.

I stumble, dropping to one knee, as a blade slips past my guard and into my shoulder. A second, vicious blow knocks the sword from my fingers. "Run," I manage. If I can just catch my breath, I'll follow.


She darts forward, picking up your sword, and stands between you and the remaining wraiths. She holds the blade as if she's familiar with it, but there are so many of them.


I'm going to use one more attempt at Demonblood, with Promise, Deliver, Bargain, Strong, and Darkvision (I know it's a reach). I'm going to try and simply banish the ghosts, since they're weakening.

Rolling 7d6 1 times.
[ 3 4 5 4 4 2 5 ] 27

That's four successes; enough to buy the goal, but not fend off any complications or conditions. Fine.

I reach deep inside, somewhere I didn't even know I had, and suddenly I can see the silvery glowing lines that hold the wraiths here, binding them to some fell will.

I fling a hand out, and the lines shatter like glass, the wraiths vanishing the instant the lines do. I grin fiercely, even as I can feel my own physical form fading. I know I will wake up in Hell, and I will be taken to task for my wandering.

The metal shards in my chest pulse coldly, a reminder of the mistakes that have brought me here, and that is the last sensation I have as darkness claims me.


Going to think about the Condition and Complication, I think. I have some ideas but I really do need to think about what would be most fun to play.

Definitely going to tweak my homebrew rules, too. For one thing, you should always be able to accept a single Complication in return for a single True die on a roll.