Back in July, Captain Robert of Abney Park announced the pre-order of the upcoming Steampunk RPG, Airship Pirates. The first 300 ordered from Abney Park's store would be signed and numbered, and I thought this was shiny. Having poor impulse control (seriously, I should have that tattooed on my forehead) I couldn't resist ordering... and justified it as a self birthday present, seeing as it was due to be released and shipped around my birthday. I had no idea about the company he'd partnered up to do this project with (Cubicle 7, Cakebread & Walton), but I figured even if it did suck, that it would still be a pretty piece of Abney Park flavored collectible.
After much excited waiting, it finally arrived the first day of September. My first impression of the book was it's gorgeous. I spent a bunch of time just flipping through it, reading it from cover to cover. The artwork is amazing from some very talented people, the layout is beautiful... and all in all, I am very pleased with the book I received. Considering I am a print geek, that says a lot. Some of the time I spent poking through the book was at work (while watching my printers, on lunch, or whatever). I had multiple people in the shop actually stop and note how pretty the book was... one in particular asked me what it was because it's gorgeous.
Armed with my excitement from what I'd read so far, my love of Abney Park's music, and how the system seemed to encourage role playing over roll playing, I was quick to encourage my regular gaming group to start building characters. Most of my friends were more than happy to do so, and we found the characters easy to build, not unlike the old World of Darkness system I had taken such a fondness to. The only spanner in the works was one of my two munchkin friends. He kept trying to crunch stats, rules lawyer and all in all try to work a system that's for the most part pretty damn light. Once we finally got him to remove his cranium from his ass, his character finished up relatively quickly. The only other delay at that point was haggling over the ship's stats, and whining about how tiny the Tigerfish class airships are.
I had opened character creation saying that I was going to leave who is the captain of the ship up to "friendly" competition among the players, and that I was open to being bribed if a tie breaker for the decision was needed. Sadly, bribery was not in the cards yet... as it was quickly agreed that our more violent munchkin (the one who wasn't the cork in the butt hole of progress) should be captain, as in our Battlestations game he is always vying to steal the captaincy of the Mahna Mahna from me. The ship was soon named the SS Pearl Necklace, under Captain Gavin McCloud.
A motley band of mercenaries who hide behind the facade of a flying 'Wild West Show', they are careful to try to keep a non-reputation. Gavin is a seventeen year old Skyfolk with ginger hair, green eyes, bad reputation and an addiction to masochism. His uncle Jordan McCloud is the Pearl Necklace's doctor, an older pirate at the archaic age of thirty, and has a clockwork eye to replace the one he lost (the scar across that eye speaks of the savage nature in which it was lost). The mad scientist is one Mr. Wizard, a twenty-four year old upper class gentleman escaped from a Change Cage City so that he might be able to learn and explore more than The Emperor deemed fit without ending up in the Change Cage for it. Abigale Sirocco is a somewhat absent minded nineteen year old gadgeteer tasked with keeping the Pearl Necklace airworthy, and helping out wherever the crew needs it. John Turing, formerly known as John-2 in a life forgotten to him, is a Doll who fell in with the Pearl Necklace. "King" Matata Roche is a witch doctor from the bayou with the training of a Beast Dancer, generally feared by both crew and locals when in port. The reason why he left his Neobedouin tribe is as much a mystery as it is why Captain McCloud keeps him around... though he is certainly not at odds with the James West diplomacy embraced by the crew: "shoot first, shoot later, shoot some more, and, when everyone's dead, try to ask a question or two."
We opened the first session in a bar on High Tortuga: the ship freshly supplied, new crew recruited as needed to bring the Pearl Necklace back to full capacity, and everyone enjoying themselves a little downtime before seeking new adventures. The "officers" of the Pearl Necklace were hanging out in one of the numerous taverns on the skyloft city when a young boy wandered in. He didn't spend long looking around before he made a beeline for their table. He tells the group that his boss, Scabby Jack, wants to make a business proposal... which the group is suspicious about and attempt to interrogate the boy over. He doesn't have any information to give them, just keeps insisting that his boss doesn't like to be kept waiting. Even as "King" Roche scares the boy, the rest of the group eventually decide to follow him and see what Scabby Jack wants.
Scabby Jack's place is on the high class area of the skyloft, the little floating donut populated by the rich people of High Tortuga. His house is the nicest, with a well armed defensive perimeter and guards. Roche is left outside, as he's still antagonizing the boy and the guards, but the rest of the group is lead inside to Scabby Jack's office. Scabby Jack explains his boy went missing, and soon after he received a ransom note with specific instructions on where to go and what to bring in order to get his boy back. He doesn't know who it is, but he'd much rather the money go to honest folk who are doing a job for him than some scoundrel who thought he'd give into random demands. After some thought, the job is accepted and the crew is set up with a crate of plate and the rest of what they need to follow through on the ransom. Inspection of the plate make it clear it is not the real deal and is intended to simply be a decoy or an outright lie to foil the kidnappers.
The crew sets out right away, even though the rendezvous is scheduled for the next day at four in the afternoon, intending to scout the area under the cover of darkness. They manage to find their way to the spot, though it is a dark moonless night. The captain decides to send his clockwork owl for a closer look on the barge. A simple thing, it's first effort leads to it circling about once and coming back to the ship with nothing found... but Gavin sends it out again. This time it not only finds its mark, but manages to wake up the guards on watch who quickly sound the alarm. A firefight ensues, along with a signal flare going up. The Pearl Necklace bests the barge, just in time to be engaged by another airship which had quietly approached unnoticed under the cover of darkness. Another Tigerfish class airship, the Revenge gets the drop on the Pearl Necklace and leaves her hurting pretty bad. In an act of desperation as she starts to sink, she launches her grappling guns to grasp hold of the Revenge and drag her down with her. The nearly untouched Revenge slows their descent, and the Pearl Necklace's crew starts to board like rats. Lead by the terrifying "King" Roche, him and a dozen crewmen make their way across the ropes tying the two airships together.
As the boarding progresses, the rest of the Pearl Necklace's crew starts taking shots at the crew of the Revenge, focusing their efforts on those who would try to cut the ropes and detangle the two ships. As one after another of those who try to cut the ropes find themselves taken down with nothing more than one or two well aimed shots, they realize their efforts are better focused on those who are boarding the ship. They nail a few of the boarding crew, sending them plummeting to the ground below with a bloody splat. "King" Roche successfully boards, and brings on the beast dancer flavored carnage. In the chaos his first efforts don't actually hit anyone, but they scare the living daylights out of a few crew. As the battle continues, Mr. Wizard and Doctor McCloud spot the captain of the assailant and focus their attentions on her. Some quick sniping and they're left arguing over who actually killed the bitch even as her crew surrender, finding the Pearl Necklace's crew clearly superior, even when crippled and short on numbers due to damages sustained by the crew from the successful broadsides.
The defeated crew is given the chance to swear their loyalty to Captain McCloud, and efforts to stabilize and heal injured crew from both ships are made as Mr. Wizard go looking for their mark... one William Cutter, Scabby Jack's boy. He focuses his attention on the lower decks of the Revenge, even as "King" Roche notices the people fleeing from the burning and sinking barge, one of which happens to be about the size of a young boy. He dives off the Pearl Necklace into the river in pursuit as the boy sinks to the bottom of the river. John Turing notices this action too, and follows Roche's lead. The boy finds the bottom of the river and starts to walk along the river bed with his head well below the surface, Roche in hot pursuit, swimming furiously behind him. John Turing meanwhile gets himself stuck in the mud as he splashes down into the river. As William Cutter finds the bank of the river, he takes off in a run away from the water and Roche is right on his tail. Mr. Wizard spots William Cutter coming ashore, and starts trying to herding him with some carefully aimed shots in front of the boy. The witch doctor soon catches up to the boy with Mr. Wizard's help, and grapples with him, leaving him sitting flat on his ass.
It's about this time that it becomes clear that William Cutter is not Scabby Jack's real son, but instead a child sized automaton. When he's told they've come to retrieve him for his father, William Cutter starts to protest loudly and tries to flee again. Clearly not very graceful, and more than a little panicked, the boy is easily overpowered as John Turing finally gets free of the mud of the river and joins Roche and the boy. They take him back to the ships amid protests that William does NOT want to go back to 'that monster', and discussion soon ensues between William Cutter and Mr. Wizard.
The meat of William Cutter's protests seem to be the fact that he is constantly treated as a small child, even though he was built some twenty-seven years ago. He is sick and tired of having to play at being a child for whoever happens to have last paid a large sum of money to take ownership of him. The crew is less than sympathetic to what they see as nothing more than a brat complaining about living in a gilded cage. Besides, they're being paid rather handsomely to see that this boy is returned to Scabby Jack; it doesn't matter to them if this is his son or an automaton. They eventually placate William Cutter enough to be quiet by offering to upgrade him to a more adult body... he just needs to allow them to turn him off for the upgrades. Mildly suspicious, but ultimately won over by the prospect of being big and strong enough to perhaps take control of his own life, the boy agrees. Mr. Wizard turns him off, and then stows him safely in the hull of the Pearl Necklace.
The crew takes the time needed to repair the Pearl Necklace, and make sure both ships are airworthy for the trip back to High Tortuga. When all is said and done, they find themselves slightly under crewed for the trip but manage to limp back with Captain McCloud at the helm of the Pearl Necklace, and Abigale Sirocco at the helm of the Revenge. They arrive back in High Tortuga around mid-morning, and after putting the crew on watch on both ships, pay a visit to Scabby Jack around eleven. They arrive with a steamer trunk on the shoulders of Roche and Turing, and a large waxed canvas bag. When they approach the guardhouse, they explain they need to speak to Scabby Jack again to clarify some details or make additional arrangements for the job. The guards are reluctant to get up off their asses, but eventually round up the boy from the day before to send him in to let their master know the crew of the Pearl Necklace has come to see him again. It takes a while, but they eventually get shown into the same office they met him in before.
Mr. Wizard wastes no time, and tells Scabby Jack to take a look at what they have in the steamer trunk. When opened, inside is William Cutter still powered off. Even as he's explaining that the boy had raised a fuss about coming home and this had been the easiest way to see that he was returned, Mr. Wizard fumbles a minute to find the boy's on switch. When he "wakes", William Cutter is dismayed to find that he'd been lied to and he is still a little boy. Scabby Jack pays no mind to the boy's whining, but doesn't have the chance to respond before Mr. Wizard holds out the bag for his inspection. Inside is the head of one Larry the Limp, the captain of the Revenge, offered as proof that the job was thoroughly done. Scabby Jack was less dismayed by the severed human head than one would normally expect, and words of a similar nature to good riddance were said. The crew was paid happily and promptly for their efforts. When they offered to return the fake plate, Scabby Jack told them to keep it and try to sell it to some sap if they wish. Before parting ways with Scabby Jack, they asked his advice on who to speak to about buying and selling airships. He offered a list of names, and they headed out.
Captain McCloud, Doctor McCloud, John Turing and Abigale Sirocco go in one direction to sort out where they'd find the first name on Scabby Jack's list, one Nate the Snake, as Mr. Wizard and "King" Roche head off to find the harbor master, a Mr. Chadwick. After some botched intimidation and negotiation attempts from Roche, involving offers to work his voodoo curses on the victim/s of Chadwick's choice, Mr. Wizard stepped in and smooth talked his way onto the harbor master's good side... He25 worth of bribes certainly didn't harm his efforts either. Given the name Dave the Barber and information on where to find him, they rejoined the crew mates to discuss their findings.
They agreed to approach Nate the Snake first, despite his name, since they had been lead to believe they'd established a good rapport with Scabby Jack and this guy was the top of his recommended list. Discussing how much he'd be willing to part with for the pair of the Tigerfish airships were met with snide remarks about Tigerfish being a dime a dozen, and it being made clear that Nate the Snake was a middleman doing little more than connecting buyers and sellers, and taking a skim off the profits. It didn't take long for him to be left in the clouds and the group to go find Dave the Barber instead.
Opening conversation with Dave was warmer, and conversation quickly turned to the story attached to how the crew of the Pearl Necklace had come into possession of the Revenge. Dave knew of Larry the Limp, and was rather impressed that a band of fine upstanding ladies and gents, who were not pirates *wink*wink*, could best Larry the Limp. The story was tuned to try to obscure the crew's pirate nature, but Dave saw right through it. He was respectful of the crew's attempted modesty, and insisted he would maintain their "cover" by not reveling their identities when he sold the ships off again. Being won over by the story attached to the ship, and the impressive scorch mark on the deck of the Revenge where Captain Larry the Limp had met her end, he offered a better price than the ships would have gotten normally. In return, he showed the crew a Barracuda class airship, named The Heart and previously captained by a little old lady only on Sundays for Rum runs. With little more than cabins and a hull, and some cosmetic damage to the outside hull, Dave still wanted nearly the same amount as such a beastie would go for new... but was able to compromise with the Pearl Necklace's crew in light of the fact that they were nearly willing to hitch a ride to Isla Æther to buy one new from Jervis & Bottingly instead.
Mechanically speaking, the system is indeed lightweight and fun. We did have some hickups during these first two sessions, but that is easily attributed to still getting used to the system. I am hoping to put together a GM screen with some of the more common mechanics broken down for quick reference, as well as the weapons damage chart and other useful bits of quick reference, to hopefully help the flow in the future. I also want to acquire more of the black pirate dice I have, so that I can make those the "official" black dice for rolling. It would be fantastic if Captain Robert could offer up some dice customized with the Abney Park jolly roger logo, but I don't know what all would be involved in doing that, nor how much it would cost up front or who else would be interested.
Hopefully after a few more sessions, we'll get more into the flow of things. I already have some ideas for subplots I wish to put into play, and I will have to ponder on options for the shorter one off stories also. I think my players all had fun, and hope they're looking forward to future sessions.