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I'm about to introduce my friends to the game Lady Blackbird, which I've never played before (PDF link to system). I'm the GM of the upcoming game. The game has a rule allowing a character to have a refreshment scene with another to replenish their die pool.

The nature of refreshment scenes is not exactly made clear in the rules, so I need to explain the concept to the players. As an added challenge, my players have mostly played DnD 5e and Savage Worlds. They have little experience in systems encouraging out-of-character discussions about the ongoing story --- they find the idea of saying "let's have a scene where..." rather foreign.

How do I introduce the concept of refreshment scenes to my players so they understand the idea and feel comfortable using it?

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Listen and ask questions; don't plan.

If your players are coming from 5E D&D, they probably already have a place in their head for the mechanical concept of refreshment scenes, which is currently labeled "short rest". How did you introduce short rests to them?

If somebody played a class with significant uptick on a short rest, like a warlock, you might have explained what one was when you gave them their character sheet and they saw they only had a couple spells. If they played a class with an ability that triggered on a short rest, like a wizard or battlemaster fighter, you might have explained what one was when you were running down the basic mechanics. If they had a fight scene and a few people got wounded, maybe you introduced it then as a way to recover without leaving the dungeon.

So, working from that starting point, well, every class has a significant uptick on a refreshment scene because that's all the rest there is in this game, so:

If you spend out of your dice pool and succeed, those dice are gone until you have a refreshment scene, usually a decent stretch of time and safety to catch your breath and refocus.

-- or --

Secrets that say "once per session" might also come back early if you have a refreshment scene, usually a decent stretch of time and safety to catch your breath and refocus.

-- or --

Your condition track monitors the bad things that happen to you, either when you fail your rolls or when the plot just breaks that way. We can treat conditions like obstacles you'll need to overcome; this works well for ones like "Trapped" or "Hunted". But you can also clear one out during a refreshment scene, usually a decent stretch of time and safety to catch your breath and refocus.

However, there's one difference: when a player says "I want to take a short rest refreshment scene", you say "Cool, what's that look like?" (This is also a generally useful question to keep on the front burner of your brain.) Some additional considerations:

  • they don't take a fixed one hour, but just "as long as it takes".
  • they don't need to involve the whole party, just the characters who want to scene. So, ask questions: where do you go? What do you do, to try to clear your head? Liquor, music, sky-mantras, cloud-gazing...
  • because you started in the middle of the action, they're opportunities to get people to be creative with backstory, both about their secrets and with each other's characters. So, ask questions: where'd you learn how to do that cool thing? Where'd you meet this person before?
  • they don't automatically clear a status or refresh a secret, but if your players want to do that, ask questions: how would you do that? Are the tools here? If so, how'd they get here? If not, what do you improvise with?
  • they can happen in flashback, which is more of an advanced narrative technique, but if your players find themselves under pressure and in desperate need, you can bring flashbacks up and suggest acting out one of the notable scenes in the backstory they've been coming up with. (Flashbacking is also excellent for setting up the cunning stratagem that resulted in the Imperials writing off Cyrus Vance as presumed dead.)

Unless you ran a "one encounter a day" campaign, in which case you might never have introduced short rests and your players may not have a space in their head for "rest but don't sleep". Let me know if that's the case and I'll add some referents.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ If kviiri's group is anything like my three D&D groups, I woudn't be too sure about people actually acting out their short rests, they feel more like time skips to me. I wish I had a group like yours but... I think they might be the exception rather than the norm suggested by that "probably" in the first sentence. \$\endgroup\$ – Zachiel Feb 15 at 19:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Zachiel Ah, right. Not even the narration part of a short rest, just the idea of "taking a breather without retreating to safety". \$\endgroup\$ – Glazius Feb 15 at 20:17
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Having ran several games at conventions, including Lady Blackbird, I have found that the most effective way to introduce new gaming styles to players is to be upfront about it.

I will assume that you're past the pitch phase, where you need to tell your players how cool this game is - delving into the technical aspects in that phase is often detrimental.

Before the game starts, tell your players: "This is a very different game from those we're used to play. For instance, ..."

Keep it short, maybe make a few examples of unusual things they will be able to do and be ready to answer their questions, including explaining refreshment scenes.


Anecdotally, there's a different thing that might work with Lady Blackbird specifically. At least, my GM managed to sneak this up on me and it was one of my most memorable moments, the one where I could finally see what D&D didn't let me do.

Beware, there might be no turning back.

Before the game, the GM helped us understand our character sheet and explained the concept of keys. Sooner or later someone will want to hit one key: in my game, that was me playin Kale. We were running for the Owl, in the bowels of the Hand of Sorrow, and I asked: "Is there anything cool to steal here?".

And then, my GM went: "I don't know. Is there? You tell me."

This is very similar to how games like Dungeon World or Apocalypse World work, where you turn player questions into questions of your own, and a golden opportunity for you to briefly explain that "yes, this game allows you to decide something about the game world, whenever you want." You might want to add that "It will be best if this builds a complication for your own character that allows you to hit one of the keys." - a lesson I learned when GMing Lady Blackbird for a group that had a lot of fun playing teatime with space pirates playing space accordions and disrupting each other's scene with nonsense.

By the way, make sure that your players know that the pace of the adventure is in their own hands.

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