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