Over the past two weeks, I have played two sessions of the freeform science-fiction/steampunk roleplaying game Lady Blackbird over Skype with some friends. This was my first experience with true “freeform” roleplaying, and it was a blast.
If you haven’t heard of it, Lady Blackbird is a free RPG available online. It is very light on rules (each character sheet includes all of the information required for a player, and the referee’s book is only 16 pages long, most of which is back story), mostly emphasizing improvisation and imagination over fleshed out adventures pre-written by the referee.
And indeed, the term referee is perfect for the role of the game master in Blackbird: the players are largely responsible for which adventures they want to dive into, and the ease of creating encounters means that the game is free to roam about the Wild Blue setting with little or no effort. Yes, the game includes a ‘starting scenario,’ but it would be just as easy to veer off course in search of adventure.
In our game, we have largely stuck to the established plot, but I think that if we play another campaign it will be with different characters–perhaps characters on the periphery of the plot, or perhaps simply a whole new adventure in the Blue.
Skype, by the way, has been invaluable in coordinating players in Northern California, Southern California, and Texas–if you have been hesitant to try role playing over a conference call, I would give it a shot. It works wonders. We use IRC in a different window for the random dice rolls, since you can’t (to my knowledge) use video on Skype for conference calls.
Anyway, try out Blackbird when your group is looking for a change of pace. It’s great fun, requires little or no preparation (we have now played two sessions with nothing prepared, and it worked out fine–just make sure everyone has read about the setting and their characters), and it seems like the ‘main’ plotline can be finished in just three-five sessions, depending on your group’s pace.