Case Studies/Lady Blackbird

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role-playing game, story game, steampunk, pen-and-paper game


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Lady Blackbird is a short pen-and-paper role-playing game set in a steampunk science-fantasy setting. Written by John Harper, it blends elements from a number of existing role-playing games. The work as a whole falls under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike.

Lady Blackbird is on the run from an arranged marriage to Count Carlowe. She hired a smuggler skyship, The Owl, to take her from her palace on the Imperial world of Ilysium to the far reaches of the Remnants, so she could be with her once secret lover: the pirate king Uriah Flint. Lady Blackbird by John Harper


Lady Blackbird is a ready-to-play role-playing game with simple rules. Players choose from a number of characters, including the eponymous Lady Blackbird, who are defined by their traits, secrets and keys. The rules have been drawn from a number of indie games, some of them open content and others closed.

John Harper is an independent game publisher active in the story gaming community (a subset of the pen-and-paper role-playing game community). The reuse and reimagining of existing game mechanics is a popular element of his gaming creations.

He typically releases his works under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike licence, typically only keeping them closed when he has used others content in his work.

License Usage

Lady Blackbird uses the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike licence.


Unknown. Lady Blackbird does use game mechanics from The Shadow of Yesterday, a game under Creative Commons Attribution. It is possible Harper was inspired by that game.


The use of this licence, as well as the game's compelling mechanics, has led to a number of new games (or 'hacks') described as 'Hackbirds'.

A complete list of Hackbirds can be found here, on the open gaming wiki Year of Living Free. Most are released under the same licence as Lady Blackbird.

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