Lady Blackbird

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.

steampunk city
A city of steam. Source unknown. Thank you for letting me borrow this, however.

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.

Swords & Wizardry Thief Class

Here is a quick, unproofed copy of my take on the Thief for Swords & Wizardry (which I have previously stated is my current favorite retroclone). I hope you like it! I apologize for the short story that precedes the actual rules. Feel free to skip them, I put ’em in italics so they’re easier to pass over. If you play it, let me know how it goes. Please note that it is VERY unproofed, so if parts of it don’t make sense, are contradictory, or are embarrassingly expressed, please excuse me 😉

Thief Class

Thief Swords and Wizardry Role Playing
Stock cartoon of a crook. Not really related.


The smell of burned meat wafts from beneath the thick wooden door. Asgot crouches beside the portal, his nose pressed close to the floor. “Orcs,” he whispers to the three adventurers behind him, holding up a fist to silence their idle chatter.

He stands and begins examining the stone frame that surrounds the door. He finds no traps, and nods to his companions. They move into position before the door, while he fades back into the shadows of the corridor.

Grimholt the Mighty smashes the door down with a swing of his heavy maul, and Extar the Unfoolish follows with a bolt of arcane fire, burning the flesh from a surprised orc. As it falls, however, its companions howl with rage—their surprise and shock has worn off. The orcs lift wicked axes as other tip a long table onto its side, forming a barrier against the magic-user’s flames.

Ivan the Untouchable holds forth his holy symbol and prays to his golden goddess for protection, then charges headlong into the room, flanked by Grimholt and Extar. Arrows and handaxes fly his way, but seem to swerve aside just as their iron ought to bite into his flesh. His own mace crushes the bones of a scowling monster’s forearm as he swings with all his might.

For a moment, the three humans grow confident that they have the orcs on the run. A thunderous BOOM shakes them to their very bones, while the harried orcs let out a ragged cheer. A wide door on the far side of the room is flung open, revealing the meanest looking ogre that the adventurers have ever seen. A wide scar runs across its face, and the burn of dragonfire mars its flesh. A powerful-looking tooth hangs from a thong slung round its neck—the dragon had not burned the ogre with impunity.

Grimholt the Mighty falters, his usually unshakable courage failing him as he stares at this ogre that will mean their death. Extar begins casting, but his voice sounds feeble beside the battlecry of the beast. The orcs climb out of their hiding spaces, evil grins beginning to grow across their hideous faces.

Suddenly, a howl—not of rage, but of pain—splits the air in the room. The ogre looks down at a thin sliver of metal that extrudes from his chest. A cheery voice speaks out when the cry of the beast begins to fade.

“It looked like the right time to make my introduction,” the adventurers hear Asgot say. The wiry thief steps out from behind the teetering ogre, pulling his slender rapier from the beast’s back as he comes. The orcs gawk at the unassuming man who has effortlessly slain their most fearsome champion, and then their own courage breaks. They turn and run, and do not look back once.


The Thief is an optional addition to your retroclone fantasy roleplaying game, though he has been designed with Swords & Wizardry’s rules in mind. The purpose of the Thief is to create a martial character with the damage-dealing potential of the fighting man, but with enough utility to get the party out of sticky situations where swords alone wouldn’t suffice.

Don’t be confused—this is not your modern-edition Rogue, with epic trap finding and acrobatic abilities. The heroic character archetypes of popular MMORPGs and other pen-and-paper roleplaying games would be out of place in the gritty, dangerous world of 0e. Our Thief has his uses, but delivering damage from the front lines should rarely be one of them.



The Thief gains 1HD per level, with no bonus. He shouldn’t be as frail as a Magic-user, but the stalwart Cleric or Fighting-man has little need to worry about his position as the group’s toughest member.


The Thief shares his Save stat with the Fighting-man. He might not be the toughest guy on the team, but he is agile and tenacious, and clings to life at every opportunity. This is important, as many of the Thief’s skills depend upon Save rolls.


The Thief’s To-Hit/THAC0 scores are identical to the Cleric’s. He isn’t the finest fighter in the group, but he isn’t useless with a blade, either.


Finally, the Thief requires as many EXP to level up as the Magic-user. His job may look easy, but training one’s body to the finely honed level that a second-story man or ninja requires can be as difficult as learning to control the arcane forces that underpin the world.

Equipment Capabilities

A Thief can use any one-handed melee weapon except the bastard sword, and can dual-wield. He can wear only cloth and leather armor.



The Thief’s most infamous ability is also his most powerful. A Thief attacking an enemy that is distracted or unaware deals twice normal damage to his foe. It is up to a referee to determine when a foe is distracted or unaware, but we recommend that any lone foes that are being attack by two party members should be considered distracted, as well as any attacks made when the enemy is unaware of the Thief’s existence—such as sneak attacks from an upper story.

Thieves’ Guild

A Thief at level 9 can found a Thieves’ Guild in a city, attracting footpads and second-story men. This secretive organization can wield great political and economic power, and even military might if the master decides to turn it in the direction of a mercenary company.

A Thieves’ Guild will most often operate out of an abandoned-looking building or the sewers, and only the richest and most powerful will be able to operate in the open, out of a keep or mansion.


The Thief has the ability to pick through locked doors, although complex or magical locks can often be beyond his abilities. To represent a Thief’s burgeoning skills, all lockpick attempts are made as a Save roll. If the Thief saves, the lock is opened. If he fails, he cannot attempt to pick the lock again until he picks at least one other lock (a practice lock does not count).

It is recommended that the referee adds some small penalties to locks based on difficulty, but these changes should be small, and very rare—a level 20 Thief should be able to penetrate most locks, even if they are exceptionally well crafted. A penalty of -1 should suffice for most magical or physical distractions.

Most dungeon locks, even on rare treasures, will probably not have a penalty on them—perhaps only a single lock per floor would be enhanced in this way, and no more than a few per dungeon.

Note that this does not allow the Thief to detect traps on locked doors.


Like lockpicking, sneak checks are made by making a simple Save roll. Unlike lockpicking, the referee should frequently adjust the bonuses or penalties the Thief receives to this roll. Sneaking through total darkness should provide a bonus, for example, as should carrying an item enchanted with Silence 15’. Conversely, attempting to sneak up on alert guards in the middle of the day should be significantly more challenging. Bonuses should stack—sneaking with utter silence under pitch darkness should be easy for even a novice rogue, unless his quarry can see in the dark.