[Lady Blackbird] “It ended like a French movie.”

Those were Rich’s word during the game and on his after-game tweet (see my previous AP post) to describe how our Lady Blackbird game came to an end. “French” here could stand for “artistic/impressionistic/avant-garde,” but I’ve a feeling that it really stands for “unsatisfactory.” Or more completely, visually spectacular, but narratively unsatisfactory. If you take a moment to read through Rich’s AP Report and Mick’s Report of the last session of the game, I believe you’ll arrive at the same conclusion.

What is interesting is that, to me, describing it as a “French movie” made a lot of accurate sense. I’m not gonna say that I’m a film connoisseur–that title more aptly goes to my wife who does have a degree in Motion Pictures and is the one who studied the various film movements that we could lump under “French”–but being married to my wife, I have picked up a bit of exposure to this kind of art cinema over the years. And yes, that means having seen movies that fit the very same description I wrote above (Picnic at Hanging Rock, I’m looking at you!). But that has also taught me that not all stories are linear, and that sometimes a story is done even if I don’t think it is.

Maybe that is why when we finished our game of Lady Blackbird with two characters walking off the scene, leaving three others on stage, with overarching questions still hanging but with the immediate dramatic situation resolved, it felt like a fitting end.

The immediate tendency here would be to think that, because Kale was one of those characters that walked off stage with a situation resolved, I’m just being selfish in that the game ended for me and I’m refusing to acknowledge my fellow players’ characters and their stories. There might be a grain of truth there, something like a 5%, but I don’t think that is the case in general.

Mick brings up in his post that we left unaddressed the driving questions laid out in the game document that drive the set-up situation of the game. I can’t say I mind that; our game is our game, and while we certainly used those questions as the trampoline from which we jumped off, we went flying in very different directions after that. And just to name two quick examples: we had a central character, Snargle, walk off the game midway because the player really socketed into one of his Keys (the Key of Compassion) and he saw the other shipmate’s actions as incompatible with him; and we had the introduction of the fairly central character of the elf girl Briarea, both of which emerged organically from play yet are not covered by the set-up questions.

I propose that the game has no final scene that needs to be played out in order to complete the tale of Lady Blackbird, that the meeting with Pirate King Flint is merely a carrot to drive the mule cart that is the game in case it stalls, but not a final destination that needs/has to be reached.

With that in mind, I say that the game ended like a French movie, but mean that it ended in a non-traditional, three-part-structure way. In the last scene, all major characters except Naomi hit central Keys and saw them resolved one way or another: Snargle bought off his Key of Compassion, realizing there are some people that cannot, and perhaps do not deserve, to be helped; Kale bought off his Key of the Mission, choosing his fraternal bond with Captain Vance even if his friend never realized that he had given his life for him; Vance bought off his Key of Hidden Longing, stating publicly that he loved Lady Blackbird and thus was in direct opposition to the goal for which he was contracted, delivering her to a former lover; and though Rich didn’t explicitly state this out loud, in the way he played Lady Blackbird in the last scene, she chose to not buy off her own Key of the Mission, a powerful choice as equal as any of the others buying a Key off. Four of out five character stabbed directly at what made them tick! If that isn’t a climax scene, I don’t know what is.

The one exception was Naomi, and in that sense I am entirely in agreement with Mick’s dissatisfaction at the ending, inasmuch as him not having gotten a chance to get all stabby at his central issues. Yet, if you read Rich’s report, we can see that earlier in the game, Naomi did get to address in part the issue encoded in her Key of the Guardian, when she asks Lady Blackbird, “What next?” Based on Lady Blackbird’s response, it seems Naomi and the Lady are together for the long haul, presumably with the elf girl Briarea in tow alongside Naomi. But that’s another story, one for the future.

As is what happens to Vance, Lady Blackbird and Naomi as they are left in the Owl once Snargle and Kale walk off, and they decided that they indeed will continue on to their final destination and meet with Pirate King Flint.

That is another story. One that I very much think Rich, Mick and Chuck should get together and play out, one that I’ll be voraciously expecting the AP reports so I can see what happens, but ultimately a different story from the one we were all playing.

In roleplaying games, as in real life, some stories conclude at points were not all loose ends are neatly tied up, with some characters having achieved closure on their issues while others remain uncertain of their greater fate, with questions unanswered. I’m fine with that. Is it frustrating? Yeah, sure. But only if those non-standard endings do not reach a climax; there’s a big difference between a story fizzling into oblivion and one exploding into a ending with some ellipses left hanging.

Mick brings out a quote from our friend Judd Karlman in his post, “Good characters aren’t based around a statement; they’re based around a question.”

Look above and you’ll see that at least four characters, all of which were based around a central question of going with one choice of their being or another, brought those questions up front and center and answered them one way or another.

There is still a story to be told in this game, yes, but it is a different story, one that will involve some of the unanswered questions brought up during play, with some even brought up by my own character, but essentially a different story. By all means play it out. But let’s not do a disservice to the story that we all told together. This story reached an end, and it was a mighty good and powerful one. Let this one be your new trampoline, and see where that takes you as the Owl flies out once more into the Wild Blue.

The Saga of Lady Blackbird


  1. “But only if those non-standard endings do not reach a climax”

    Not having much context side from these two posts it’s hard to comment, but I think I’ll sum up most of my comments by saying that while I think your statement is accurate, the problem is that /you/ feel there was a satisfying climax to the story, where as Rich feels there wasn’t. And I don’t think you are being selfish, at least not consciously, but I do think you are overly discounting the effect that having your moment in the sun at the end has on your impression of the ending. It’s like if you have a session where you get 50% of the play time solo, you may be thinking :This is awesome” but he other players may just be sitting there bored… you may not realize the impact it’s having on the other players, but it does have one, and you will almost certainly have a more positive impression of the session.


  2. Wicked.

    There was obviously enough emotion in this game to make me categorize it as possibly the best AP series I have read. I read all the APs in the series and I am envious. This has been very satisfying for me to read, especially since there was such passion created that it has left what seems to be real life tension as a result.

    On behalf of your readers (for which I have no right to speak, but I will,) thank you, as this is an excellent example of play, and the ending was immensely satisfying. The meta-story of the group conflict makes it even better. Kudos for imparting such fire into your game and letting it be witnessed by the unwashed masses of the interwebs.

    As for my own position, I feel like playing the rest of the characters stories to a conclusion with the pirate king would dilute the power of the narrative. As it stands, there is tension and energy left in the story, not that would be good to resolve, but that would be good to discuss. The meta- is almost as good as the story, and tells the story of good role-playing that would be unsatisfying if it was all concluded in a happliy ever after sort of way. Knowing that we do not know what the ultimate conclusion is will make these stories live in a way that the three act conclusion would deny them.

    In any event, the story is ended for me. I have put down other stories before because they felt “finished” to me. I did not want to know the “end”, as I felt that the “ending” was perfect at that point, even without resolution.


  3. @Rich Rogers
    My apologies. My assumptions were based on what we experienced at the “table” (lacking that all-important visual element) and the post, but yes, I realize there’s the emotional “digestion” still missing. So I’m looking forward to that, and will annotate as necessary.


  4. @justaguy
    As I said above, I’m sure that there is an element of selfishness involved, perhaps even more than the 5% I stated above, but I don’t know that there’s that much more. I know for a fact that my character having reached the end of his story is coloring my impression of the last session; this isn’t being discounted nor ignored. All I’m saying, all that I’m trying to get across, is that while we set out to play a “last session” once the play was done, it turned out that this was not in fact the last session of the greater story, though indeed of this chapter.

    I *want* Rich, Mick and Chuck (and Arnold if he wants in as well) to continue on to Captain Flint; I *want* to know what happens when they reach the Pirate King, especially with the curveballs I threw in during play (heck, maybe Kale *was* killed during the Epilogue I wrote and his body is thrown, discarded, near Flint to prove a point). They should totally do that because the story of Vance, Lady Blackbird and Naomi did not come to an end, just to the end of a chapter in which two of their companions happened to have ended their own stories.

    I repeat for emphasis: While we set out to play a final session, the play that emerged clearly suggested that this was only the end of one chapter. Turn the page and let’s see what the next chapter brings, but let’s not discount nor minimize the ending that this one chapter brought.


  5. @Lee
    Lee, I think I can safely speak for the rest of the group here when I say, “No, thank you for reading, and you’re welcome.”

    Would playing out the eventual trip to, and meeting with, Captain Flint “dilute” or “ruin” the narrative?

    That’s a tough one. I see your point, and to an extent I am inclined to agree with it, but I also have to take into account my fellow players and their investment in the story and characters, and if they feel they still have a story to tell, then by all means I feel they should set out and tell it (and not that they need my permission at all). *To me* that will be a different chapter, though; maybe to them as well, I don’t know.

    The very first line of text on the Lady Blackbird document reads “Tales of the Wild Blue Yonder: Chapter 1”. There are many tales, and this is only Chapter 1; who says Chapter 2 cannot contain some of the same characters as they embark on a related-though-new adventure?


  6. @JJ
    Rich was putting up links for a while there, but I think he stopped. Now that it’s done, we may put up the links for the entire saga. I don’t think the others will have a problem. As for wanting the kind of feedback that may come out of SG, I can always choose to ignore comments if they get out of line, though that rarely happens in my experience.


  7. After some further thought, I’ve come to believe that whether the story is ended is based on what you think the story is about.

    If you think the story is about the intrepid adventures of The Owl on their journey to reach the Pirate King, then our last session did not give a conclusive ending. The last session WAS an end of a chapter, one might allude to Empire Strikes Back (which is fitting since Lady B has so much of a Star Wars feel to it). We’re left hanging: Will The Owl, piloted by Vance, make it past the Hand of Sorrow and through The Remnants to find the Pirate King? What happens to Captain Vance and Lady Blackbird? What happens to Naomi and Lady Blackbird? In this POV, the story needs to continue.

    If you think the story is about the crew’s relationships (and I extend “crew” to Lady Blackbird and Naomi), then with half the crew severing those ties, that is a conclusive ending. In this way, we find out it was never about the Pirate King at all, it was about what this one mission does to the crew and how it affected them. We know how this mission broke the friendship of Arkam and Vance, how Snargle quit the crew not once, but twice, and how it ultimately broke his compassionate nature into something else. We know the depth of Naomi’s loyalty to Lady Blackbird. Whether it is resolved happily or not, we know that Vance had the courage to declare his love for Lady Blackbird. In this viewpoint, shit was resolved.

    If you think the story is about the titular character – Lady Blackbird… well, the story may NEVER be resolved. This is, as the game suggests, only chapter one of her adventures. Will she ally with the Pirate King? Will she regain her control over House Blackbird? What happens with Captain Vance?

    In a way, we’re all right about the story. I’m justified in feeling like it ended well like a French movie can end well (my wife majored in French, I’ve watched several and enjoyed a few of them). I’m also justified in tilting my head slightly to the left, and feeling like there’s more story to be told (especially since Mick was yelling at me that he wanted more… I’m a GM whore, you know).

    The question I’m left with is this:

    In a heavily collaborative RPG, the question of what the story is about is up to the entire playgroup. So, is this something that should be discussed up front, ala social contract, or is it best to let it develop along the lines of play and story and then hope for a convergence with the group?

    @JJ and @Daniel: been thinking about posting to Story Games for a bit now… if someone beats me to it, it would be nice (I rarely get responses)
    .-= Rich´s last blog… [Lady Blackbird]: It’s Not Over til the Old Guy Gets His Questions Answered =-.


  8. @Rich
    I understand the left-head-tilt reaction; I kinda had it myself as well.
    Can we establish prior to play what it is all about? Maybe, but that would be a bit sandbox-y. The game, which is really an adventure mod, already sets up the situation to be played; where you take that situation is up to each group, as we can see from the various Lady Blackbird AP reports out in online space. Ours turned out to be about the characters’ relationship, I think, and in that sense, much like if the story is about the titular character, it may never end, because as long as any of them are alive there is story yet to be told.

    So by all means keep telling the story of the characters left on stage when the curtain went down, because that doesn’t invalidate the finality of the act prior to it. But let’s make no mistake, an act ended, and it ended with a very clear and well-defined climax (in my opinion, a very powerful and good one).


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