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Tabletop Game / Tales from the Wild Blue Yonder

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Tales from the Wild Blue Yonder is a series of indie mini-Tabletop RPGs by John Harper of design. Each installment comes in a complete PDF explaining their common setting and the Game System, as well as the predefined characters whose roles the players assume and the explosive initial situation they find themselves in. Although the games are intended to be played as one-shots or short campaigns, they have a tremendous Replay Value thanks to the incredible flexibility of the system that allows the players to push the story in almost any direction.


The Wild Blue, the eponymous setting of the game, is a miniature star system consisting of several large planetoids and thousands of smaller rocks orbiting a central "star" composed of pure Essence. The worlds are divided among the authoritarian Empire and the disjointed Free Worlds, with an enormous sea of breathable gas surrounding them, making it possible to commute between worlds via skyships. Further off the orbital plane lie the Lower Depths populated by sky squid and other nastiness.

All installments so far have been released for free on Harper's website:

  1. Lady Blackbird (2009). The eponymous Imperial noble is fleeing from an Arranged Marriage and, to this end, has hired a notorious smuggler and his crew to take her to her old flame in his secret base hidden somewhere beyond the Free Worlds.
  2. Magister Lor (2015). The eponymous aging mystic and a young apprentice, who are all that remains of an ancient demon-binding tradition, face off against a powerful demon and the apprentice's evil (?) twin.
  3. Lord Scurlock (2015). The eponymous Imperial noble has just passed away, and his children gather at the manor for a funeral, beset from all sides by their father's many creditors who want their money back.

See also Blades in the Dark by the same designer, which has some conceptual overlaps with this series.

The game series provides examples of following tropes:

  • 2-D Space: Played with, as it is not quite space we're talking about. The sea of breathable gases comprising the Wild Blue forms a relatively flat disc aligned with the orbital planes of individual worlds, and although it is possible leave it, the atmosphere of the Lower Depths is too corrosive to stay there for long. Interestingly, there is no mention of what lies in the opposite direction ("Upper Depths").
  • Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: Built into the system with the Refreshment mechanic: the only way for players to regain spent pool dice and clear negative conditions is to role-play a brief scene (usually a dialogue) where they reveal something important about their characters.
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  • Arranged Marriage: Lady Blackbird really, really doesn't want to go through with her engagement to Count Carlowe.
  • Game System: The system is based on character traits and tags, which are combined to create dice pools to resolve conflicts.
  • Gender-Neutral Writing: Magister Lor is written in such a way as to not restrict the Tuvari twins' genders in anyway, or Lor's own, for that matter (except, maybe, that the title "magister" is masculine in the original Latin; the feminine counterpart would be "magistra"). In fact, the only character whose gender is entirely unambiguous is Setarra, who is referred as a "she" in the opening crawl.
  • Mana: Sorcerers in the game channel the "Essence", although no one quite understands what it is.
  • In Medias Res: The games usually throw the players into a conflict-saturated situation and let them figure out where to go from there.
  • Kraken and Leviathan: The giant sky squids populate the Lower Depths, while the Leviathans slumber even further below.
  • Space is a Sky Ocean: The game blends the two tropes by applying orbital mechanics to atmospheric events.
  • Steampunk: Most of the technology in the game seems to run on steam, and although the stories rarely focus on the social issues, it's clear that the Empire, at least, is undergoing some serious industrialization troubles.
  • Those Magnificent Flying Machines: The sky ships take all sorts of forms, from the submarine-like Owl, through the dreadnought-like Hand of Sorrow, to Kel Tuvari's yacht-like smuggler boat.
  • A Wizard Did It: Any physicist will tell you that orbital mechanics don't work this way—but since the star of the Wild Blue is made of pure Essence, any notion of regular physics goes right out the window.
  • You All Meet in a Cell: Lady Blackbird opens with the crew and passengers of The Owl locked up in the brig on the Hand of Sorrow.

Alternative Title(s): Lady Blackbird