[Bliss Stage] Men and girls

Started by Ron Edwards, March 24, 2010, 10:26:52 PM

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Ron Edwards

I'd hoped to get a chance to play this, partly because I'm working on a pretty big project regarding science fiction role-playing, and partly because Ben was available at Forge Midwest. The game include me, him, and Dave, later joined by Tim Koppang.

Before we start, I want to describe what made the game finally work for me, conceptually. First, the whole emo-bot deal from anime sources isn't immediately accessible to me; when I first read it, I said, "The Void Captain's Tale! Child of Fortune!", which are books by Norman Spinrad, and, "Why did you add the big robots?" Ben went, "Huh?" Then he named some sources and I said, "Huh?" and "How can you not know Norman Spinrad, you evil person?"

So I was having trouble putting it together in my head, and then Ben explained a couple of things which happen to be a bit vague in the book or perhaps have become more specific in his mind since writing the book, I don't know. Here they are:

1. In the real world, there are indeed giant humanoid flesh-robotic drones, stomping around the landscape destroying things and hunting you and your buddies. This isn't subject to any customizing.

2. In the dream-world of the characters' missions, the foes' appearance is decided upon by the play group, but apparently is still in the zone of "stompy giant."

3. No one knows how or why fighting in the dreamworld is effective against the actual drones stomping about in the real world. Nor is it clear how the Anchor character is perceiving genuine information about the attackers so he or she can be communicating it to the Pilot floating there in the fluid. She just is.

4. The otherworld as described by the Anchor to the Pilot is composed entirely of the Anchor's imaginings, made relevant to the combat somehow by data he or she is somehow receiving (see #3). In other words, no one knows what the otherworld "really" looks like, or what it looks like to the aliens for whom it is the normal environment.

There's some text in the book which is effectively superceded by the above points. Which is a good thing, because I like the above points better. We ran into this because I was trying to customize what the drones look like based on that text, and Ben kept insisting we couldn't do that, and now it's clearer why.

Anyway, in the spirit of setting the game where you're playing, the home of our little resistance cell was indeed the Best Western hotel in Madison, and the womb-HQ place with the alien gunk was located in Matt Strickling's room right next to the conference room we were playing in, specifically, in the hot tub.

Dave's Pilot was Tess, the young soldier; I named and played her Anchor, Ann. My Pilot was Gina, built on the Carefree Hedonist template (which I think Ben handed to me more-or-less at random; I just took a card in front of me), with her Anchor Leslie, played by Dave. So, both Pilots and both Anchors turned out to be girls, and Dave and I opted to make all of them at the higher end of the permissible age spectrum of the game, 15 through 17.

The rest of the crew was composed exclusively of younger children, ten or eleven years old, and the named ones were all boys: Jeff, Bobby, and Rico, although some of the others were probably girls. The adult character, Ben's NPC basically, was John, characterized as a very ordinary white-collar white guy who'd been passing through Madison on a long car trip associated with business, kept awake or at least out of normal REM by a sleep disorder for which he obviously no longer has medication.

Assigning the listed scores for our character templates to the NPCs led to an interesting outcome, especially since we did it without consulting one another. To sum up, the Pilots were almost entirely isolated from one another (Intimacy 1, Trust 1) and neither was intimate at all with John.

From my character sheet
Leslie, my Anchor – Intimacy 5, Trust 2 (we're regular lovers and closest friends)
Tess, the other Pilot – Intimacy 1, Trust 1 (we barely interact, not because we dislike one another, but at all; also, we work opposite shifts)
Ann, Tess' Anchor – Intimacy 4, Trust 1 (we had a petting fling which means hardly anything to me, just a fun time)
Rico, a little kid – Intimacy 3, Trust 1 (I 'mother' him but he's just a little kid to me and I don't consider him very responsible)
Jeff, another little kid – Intimacy 1, Trust 3 (the opposite: he takes good care of himself and I know he's a fierce anti-dog force for the group)
Bobby, another little kid – Intimacy 3, Trust 2 (similar to Rico)
John, the adult – Intimacy 1, Trust 3 (I rely on him and have for years, but there's little or nothing between us personally)

Dave's Pilot sheet showed a similar pattern of choices. Tess was built on the Young Soldier template, by the way.

So our group had a very distinct hierarchy: John all by himself, especially in terms of physical contact (although he was well Trusted by the Pilots); the Pilots and Anchors (mid-to-older teenage girls, with strong physical and some sexual relations among them but not between the two Pilots); and the passle o'little ones, some of whom were turning out to be scary pint-sized post-apocalyptic scavengers and dog-fighters. Our characters' Intimacy with the latter characters was defined mainly as making sure we knew where they were, tucking them in at night, overseeing their meals, and giving them hugs.

The first mission fell to Tess, with me playing Ann as the anchor. So I had the first crack at the Otherworld, which I and Dave had already described to one another as very Ditko's Dr. Strange like, with an injection of glowy 80s neon, somewhat to Ben's consternation. I love this stuff and enjoyed all the weird-ass voids and portals and primary colors. Tess' emo-bot was kind of a shogun-type classic Japanimation construct. This mission was basically a "locate and destroy" fight, full of zipping around and mechanized martial arts weaponry; Ann was so confident in Tess that she urged her to "suck it up, soldier," when hit, i.e., to jeopardize her own safety. She was also dismissive toward John, as she didn't think much of his obvious advice ("there's something out there," duh) and it's not like she and Tess hadn't kicked robot butt before.

The first interlude was between Tess and Bobby, as Tim K joined us and stepped in here to play Bobby. It was set during a "find some food cans" foray, and I think I was the judge of the events, resulting in increased Trust for that relationship.

I'm skating a bit over the internal and emotional details of Tess' scenes because I'd like Dave to contribute what he experienced and thinks about them.

My Pilot Gina took the second mission, which was more investigatory based on some weird crystalline stuff happening in the alien fluid. Her bot was more mantis-like, very glowy and a bit more sinister looking. To make a complicated story short, Gina probably killed her own mom, and put some bite on her Anchor relationship. Gina's not wary of Stressing Trust as a cushion for mission success, and even broke her admittedly small relationship with Ann entirely during the mission. But she succeeded spectacularly in the mission, although she hid the fact from Leslie that she'd effectively destroyed any hope in actually contacting the characters' parents – if indeed those were the parents, and not some alien trap.

Basically, as a player I was also working off the game-mechanics fact that Ben, who'd introduced the parent angle, was responsible for adversity, and only for adversity, on missions. So parents or no parents, if Ben did it, it was up to no good for us, and a target. In role-playing terms (and to be clear, I was definitely shifting fast back-and-forth between Actor and Author Stances during play during this mission), Gina considered herself an adult and in no need of "going back" or making it "like it was before," in direct contrast to Leslie, who wanted nothing else but.

This was great stuff – clearly the two girls' relationship, the only habitually sexual one of the entire group, is based on extremely different priorities! Gina was effectively happy as things were, feral dogs and alien apocalypse and all ... and with Leslie, again, as things were. But Leslie may well have seen the romance as an emotional stopgap.

The mission ended with a bear hug between the two girls and John, initiated and the latter invited by Gina, ecstatic (and not to mention Blissed out of her gourd) over the success of her mission that only she understood.

The final thing we played was an Interlude between Gina and John played by Ben (Dave as judge) – increased Intimacy, defined as working together physically and cooperatively to tidy up and clean the kids' rooms at the hotel. An important aspect of this scene is that Gina really placed herself as a fellow adult, relative both to the little kids and to Ann in particular, when she told John not to worry about Ann sniping at him, that it shouldn't be a problem to let "a little girl" score emotional points.

(H'mmm! Ben, Dave, and Tim, am I getting the order right? Maybe we did the interlude first.)

What we're looking at is the beginning of a significant arc for all of us. The tenuous link between the two Pilots – Gina's fling with Ann – is gone. Stress and even deception has arisen between Gina and Leslie, and genuine if non-sexual intimacy has begun with Gina and John. Tess is accumulating Trauma. Gina is accumulating Bliss.

As a mathematical but significant detail, both of us rolled quite well during the missions. Neither of us had to place a minus, ever. I think this would have turned out to be a great setup for the nigh-inevitable crash of rolling a whole ton of them at once, sooner or later.

Overall, the characters were coming to life, and the basic text-based situation had evolved into something uniquely our own, visually and otherwise. I think our story was evolving into something genuinely powerful, full of potential that would draw upon my and Dave's sense of being older guys who now relate to women, especially younger women, much differently from in our younger days. It's a real shame this wasn't a long-term game. I'm even tempted to try Skype play for once, if the other guys are interested.

Damn, one important thing, though. We never picked a Hope, which in our case would have been kind of cool because there'd be only one, given two Pilots. So that would have meant whichever of the two Blissed Out or was killed first, the other would then effectively wrap up the game upon doing either or even before.

So what Hope might work for what we had? Judging from the two Pilots' emergent and very divergent views on Hopes for Humanity's Future, we should probably pick the single unequivocal shared Hope from another category, probably Winning the War. "Win a decisive battle" seems just right to me - concrete, straight-up fight oriented without various nuances about other resistance cells or developing a super weapon, none of which seem interesting to me regarding this setup. Ben and Dave, what do you think about that?

Best, Ron

Frank Tarcikowski

Hi Ron,

I only played Bliss Stage once, in a convention context, too, and never read the book (the whole Anime and giant robots thing doesn't work for me either, I'm just more into swords and wicked winged apes I guess). When we played, we discarded the giant robot thing altogether and made up some completely unrelated virtual realities that somewhat reflected on the pilots. I think one of them was blunt hellfire and horned demons, another one, much scarier, was a surreal, flawless, deserted 1950s suburb. While I liked that, I also feel that it was taking the game quite a bit away from how it was initially intended.

I'm having a hard time remembering the mathematics but I do recall that some of the other players were kind of disappointed because they didn't immediately understand the logic of how the numbers played out. My impression back then was that it's absolutely a multisession game and that it would have become clear within a couple of sessions. Huh. This reminds me I really liked some of those concepts so I just might revisit the game one of these days.
- Frank
BARBAREN! - The Ultimate Macho Role Playing Game - finally available in English


Hi, nice to have Bliss Stage AP, I am alway curious about those.

Is there something to say about the two pilots and both anchors being girls (like how the choice was make)? Did you talk about this at the table, something like "we have a all-girls cast, is it ok with all of you?"

On the Bliss Stage presentation page, the presence of sex within the game is mentioned two times, but I have never read a Actual Play mentioning the issue or reflecting about it. For your game did you talk about lines and veils? (maybe it was simply implicit since you seem to know well each others?)

I dig the psychadelic Doctor Strange landscapes! The neon touch is great! Make me think also about the work of french comic book artists of the 70-80 like Philippe Druillet.

Gina seem like a interesting character, I like her energy, I don't know exactly why, but just the sound of her name in a anime context kind of create a character by itself. Well I am a big fan of Shinichirō Watanabe's Michiko to Hatchin, a anime situated in Brasil, I think Gina evoqe for me some colors of this anime. :)

Ron Edwards

Hi Frank and Cedric,

I am now enthusiastic about the canonical setting than I was at first reading. At the time, it seemed as if the giant robots were completely arbitrary, but now, especially since I know a great deal of that imagery is being made up by the Anchor and Pilot characters themselves, it works much better in my mind. It's also useful to know exactly where the black-box is, i.e., exactly how the Anchor knows what to say which makes the Pilot's actions effective toward the aliens.

The numbers are quite lucid, but their interactions are actually a subroutine of the larger pace-setting effects of Hopes. The number of Hopes is one less than the number of Pilots, so in our case there was only one (or would have been if we'd done it, which we definitely should have). Hopes get resolved only by Pilots Blissing Out (which has many possible in-game meanings) or dying. So, basically, the group uses up its Pilots one by one, until all the Hopes are taken care of and there's one Pilot left. Play after that point is essentially conclusive for the whole story.

So if you look at the numbers, it's all about whether a particular Pilot is racking up Bliss to 108 faster than racking up Trauma to 6, because it's going to be one or the other that gets that Pilot in the end. Missions make the Pilot's Stress (on relationships) and Trauma go up, as well as Bliss. Interludes can reduce Trauma or Stress, and increase Intimacy or Trust. But a given Interlude can only change one score, so what Interludes do is permit you to slow down one of those two tracks to your Pilot's ending.

Dave and I came up with female Pilots independently of one another. I barely considered the issue at all, and I now think I chose a female player-character because I'd been playing unequivocally male characters in S/Lay w/Me all weekend and wanted a bit of a change. Since you name the anchor character based on your own real-life high school crushes, and since Ben told us non-sexual "cool guy" crushes were not enough, they had to be about wanting to have sex with the person, I came up with Ann and Dave came up with Leslie. I guess he and I were sort of boring in our feverish high-school imagining days. So the net effect was to have two female Pilots and two female Anchors, all due to entirely unplanned influences on this particular game.

Sex and all its emotional implications (or perhaps it's the other way around) are central to Bliss Stage, in my opinion. Ben has mentioned that designing it was his personal response to my book Sex & Sorcery, and I think that's apparent throughout the game. It's important to note that exactly what happens is up to the group, because every level of Intimacy up through 4 includes non-sexual components as well. But it's always there to include if you want, and given the immature-soldier characters, the apocalyptic setting, and rather hot-house-like living circumstances, sooner or later it seems to me that honest character play would go that route. The gutsy part of the design is including the adult character, and the game text makes it pretty clear that sex with one or more of the youngsters is a monstrous source of tension for that character. I find myself reluctant to GM the game on that basis, not for some sort of moral reason so much as not wanting to get into that degree of anxiety.

Ben and I have discussed these matters for many years, and Dave has been a close member of the Sorcerer play and discussion community, as well as being probably the single most enthusiastic fan of my game It Was a Mutual Decision. So although I don't think they know one another that well, they both know me, and all of us are pretty good with speaking up about anything that does or doesn't seem to work with our personal Lines and Veils. In our game, Dave stated he was uncomfortable gaining Intimacy between Tess and Bobby until he learned that only level 5 requires actual sexual content, for instance.

I loved our otherworld too. Another influence was Andréas' "Rork," whose work is best described as M.C. Escher in motion.

Best, Ron

Simon C

We're two sessions (plus one setup session) into a seven-player long form Bliss Stage game.  It's really intense! I don't think I can sensibly talk about the themes and issues arising from play at the moment, partly because they're still all unsresolved and unformed, and partly becasue the game taps into the kind of childhood fear and passion and hope and power that's really hard to talk about but also incredibly powerful. Suffice it to say that there are moments of incredible tenderness, awful pain, awkwardness, love, betrayal, and hope.  It's lovely.

What I'm more interested about in the game is how play feels, especially the anchor-pilot robot fighting.  For me there's a lot of kind of flailing in this part of the game, like punching air.  It's not entirely unwelcome, because it fits very well with the feeling of navigating an unpredictable dream world.  I'd be interested to watch other players do this part of play, to see how they negotiate it.  The anchor acts as a kind of GM, but I feel like they don't quite have the neccesary content authority to make this work?


I'm playing in the same game as Simon, and I really appreciate that list of bullet-points. Points 3 and 4 give me some interesting guidance on how to develop the way I'm playing my anchor next time. But I do have two questions about Points 1 and 2:

Quote from: Ron Edwards on March 24, 2010, 10:26:52 PM
1. In the real world, there are indeed giant humanoid flesh-robotic drones, stomping around the landscape destroying things and hunting you and your buddies. This isn't subject to any customizing.

2. In the dream-world of the characters' missions, the foes' appearance is decided upon by the play group, but apparently is still in the zone of "stompy giant."

First off, this distinction led to quite a bit of confusion in our setting-creation session. There's a question that goes "What are the aliens like?" We couldn't decide whether this referred to the aliens' dream-world appearance (likely), their real-world appearance (unlikely), or their actual 'this-is-what-we-are-when-we're-not-in-the-drones' appearance (a definite possibility, in our eyes). From what you're quoting Ben as saying, Ron, it sounds like the dream-world appearance is the only thing that's customised?

Secondly (and I hope this doesn't sound like a dickish question - I think it's important): You said there are "giant humanoid flesh-robotic drones, stomping around the landscape destroying things and hunting you .... This isn't subject to any customizing." Do you mean their appearance isn't subject to any customising, or the fact of their existence (and that they're destroying and hunting) isn't subject to any customising? Or both?

I ask because the second thing someone said when I pointed our group to this thread was (paraphrased) "Of course you can customise the appearance of the drones," meaning that they expected any group would customise their appearance to make them work (symbolically or emotionally) for them.


Anyway, this sounds like an excellent start for the game. Any news yet on whether further play is likely?

Find out more about Left Coast (a game about writers, inspired by the life of Philip K. Dick) on Twitter: @leftcoastrpg

Ron Edwards


Cedric, I forgot to mention in my previous post, although I was very fond of playing Gina (and I agree, she was instantly engaging), I was also getting a better understanding of Ann, the Anchor I played for Dave's Pilot. She was very protective of Tess regarding everyone else, but willing for Tess to put herself at considerable risk during missions. I think now that I was playing her as in a desperate, semi-military mind-set, in the position of hitting hard with her best weapon, knowing that if it fails, all will be lost.

Simon, the way we did it - and I think the book is a little bit ambiguous in this matter - is that the Anchor player describes all the dreamworld environment, and the GM "plays" the foes within it as if they were his or her characters, including being the sole contributor of their descriptions.

So Steve, this puzzled me too at the time, because in the book there's this whole thing about "what do the aliens look like" that you're talking about, but in our game, the real-world drones were fixed (and I mean absolutely fixed) as written in the book, and in the dreamworld the alien foes were totally and only described by the GM. We the players never had any creative contact with them. I suggest using this method, because content authority is nice and straightforward that way.

That does bring up some issues I had with Ben interjecting ANIMa suits with our characters' parents in them, but I will save that for another post.

Steve, you wrote (to me),

QuoteYou said there are "giant humanoid flesh-robotic drones, stomping around the landscape destroying things and hunting you .... This isn't subject to any customizing." Do you mean their appearance isn't subject to any customising, or the fact of their existence (and that they're destroying and hunting) isn't subject to any customising? Or both?

Remember, I can only speak for the game we played last weekend, not as the author of the text ('cause I'm not him) nor as an authority toward Bliss Stage play worldwide. But in that game, it was both, and not only sort-of, but 100% not subject to negotiation. When we were doing the setup, I was under the impression that the real-world enemies (the drones) were subject to any and all discussion or input based on that same section you mentioned. Ben stopped me with a two-by-four. No. The drones are as written. I went and looked at the rules later, and found that they are indeed described unequivocally in the introductory text, and again, the answer to your question would be both. So the only possible interpretation is that the section about customizing the aliens' appearance or even "nature" is referring only to the aliens in the dreamworld.

That leads back to what I talked about a couple paragraphs ago, and which we played differently from the text because there was clearly no non-GM input about the aliens in the dreamworld either in our game. My inclination at this point (toward the text) is to ignore that section entirely and go with how Ben did it this time. It is, definitely, much more straightfoward that way.

Best, Ron

Filip Luszczyk

I find it interesting that the game worked despite the lack of common genre imagery. Personally, I wouldn't consider playing Bliss Stage with people who aren't even passingly familiar with Evangelion or RahXephon (though I wouldn't invite extreme genre fanboys to my game either).

Did using the names of your real life high school crushes contribute meaningfully to the gameplay? I only did that in my first campaign, and while the game came out surprisingly intense emotionally, I don't feel the naming convention contributed to that. However, I notice that in your game it's the players who name anchors rather than the GM. The manual does allow for both, but the way I've been reading it so far, the latter seemed like the default to me, and seemed consistent with the way it's handled in the example.

The lack of the non-GM input about the aliens is partly the feature of a two pilot game. With more players, only the current pilot and anchor don't get any input in this. Apparently, it's possible to set the stage for your own future actions that way, but I can't really think of any good examples of such strategies in our games. Though the degree of the extra player's "out of turn" input, depending on the person in question, was wildly varying in practice, it tended to focus on the immediate imagery.

Nev the Deranged

This was a pretty awesome game. I would have been perfectly happy to play all day, but the conversation that took place before the game went something like,
Ron: "Ben, I am not playing Bliss Stage for four hours."
Me: "Aww."

Ron & Ben were sharing a ride back to Chicago, and Ron, at least, had prior commitments to see to, but I felt like we got in a solid first couple of sorties, some telling relationship drama, and the first major twist in what would have been a pretty epic plot.

Having Ben there was really huge, because it meant we didn't have to look things up, and could just trust him to handle the heavy lifting, mechanicswise. I normally like to have as tight a grasp as possible on the mechanics of any game I'm playing, but I can definitely see the appeal of just being the "I show up, I roll dice when the GM tells me to, I have fun" member of a group. We also ran into the "meatspace drones are canonically static" 2x4, which after a bit of back & forth, made sense to me. As I understand it, the "remotes" are basically the opposite of ANIMa constructs. As we have to create a "suit" to interact with the dream world, the aliens have to create a "suit" to interact with the waking/material world. Those suits are the drones. Maybe that's not quite right, but that's how it makes sense to me. At some point during or shortly after this (or more likely this topic came up as a result of the question) Ben asked me what the aliens (in the dreamtime, not the physical world) were like. "Just come up with something you had a nightmare about." he said, possibly remembering that when he'd run a demo for me at GenCon a couple years back, I'd drawn on my nightmares to suggest huge locust-like monstrosities with faceted eyes, the facets of which could disengage and float around to act as independent lenses for viewing or redirecting energy. Or maybe that's just standard procedure for the game (which it probably is, now that I think about it, just makes sense). This time, I remembered another nightmare and described towering, vaguely humanoid figures that looked like they were formed from translucent blue glass, each with a single light floating around inside.

Anyway. As I recall, Ron & I just picked the first names that popped into our heads, which both happened to be female ones. I had slept about 3 hours the night before, so I was not running at full steam, but fortunately I wasn't completely fogheaded either. I must be getting old, because when Ben reminded us about picking Anchor names from our HS crushes, I actually had to struggle to remember any names. Finally the name of one of the first girls I ever had actual sexual feelings for floated to the surface, which was Leslie.

My sheet:

Tess, 13, Eager Young Soldier, my main character and pilot
Bobby, 11, the warrior, Intimacy 4, Trust 1 (Ron's notes say Jeff was the dog-slayer, but I remember it being Bobby. I started to describe him carrying a slingshot and Ben was like "fuck that, he carries a gun!" I don't actually have a Jeff listed on my sheet, but I vaguely remember the name.)
Anne, 14, my anchor, Intimacy 4, Trust 2
Leslie, 15, Gina's anchor (and my other PC), Intimacy 3, Trust 3
John, the Authority Figure, Intimacy 2, Trust 2
(I ended up having a blank 2,2 line because we didn't really need more characters for a one-shot. Or maybe I forgot to add Jeff.)
Rico, 9, the tech whiz, Intimacy 1, Trust 4 (Rico was the one who maintained the AMIMa creche, being the youngest, he had grown up with the alien technology. I also said he was a bit Aspergery, with a facility for technology, but probably not much in the way of verbal communication. I envisioned him as something of a savant, and also the baby of the group. Hence the huge Trust)
Gina, 16, the other pilot. Intimacy 1, Trust 1. (As Ron said, we were on opposite schedules, so didn't actually interact much).

To be perfectly clear about how Bliss Stage works, both mechanically and fictionally, teenage sexual tension is POWER in the dreamscape at the same time as it's a source of angst in the material world. That's the core conceit of the game, at least to my mind. Ron & I both nudged our characters and their potential hookups toward the high end of the age spectrum, there was definitely a squick factor toward youthful liaisons, which I think is built into the game.

We started the first scene with the klaxons going off, and Gina stirring in her sleeping bag with Leslie, starting to get up, but Leslie pulls her back in. "s'not your shift" she mumbles. "come back to me." I didn't think much of it at the time, but this offhand portrayal would tie in nicely to later events.

Meanwhile, Tess is jogging from the lunchroom where she was playing checkers with one of the other kids, the pawns a haphazard assortment of bottle caps, coins, and tokens from various other games. She enters the creche as John is spazzing out. "What is it?" "Something's coming!" "What?" "We don't know!" "Where is it?" "Close!" Brief semi-in-character discussion between Me/Tess and Ron/Anne about how the perimeter alarms are so nonspecific as to be nearly useless. Rico should really do something with that. Tess sinks into the hot-tub full of phlebotinum as Anne hooks up all the telemetry leads to her skin. (At some point later I mentioned that of course pilots are naked in the goo, and Ron was like "duh"). Ron suggests Ditkoesque imagery for the dreamtime, and I'm cool with that. (Later when Tim joined us he was a bit "buh?" at some of the color, and Ron was like "shut up, we're old, this is science fiction to us!")

As Ben started explaining how missions work, authority/responsibility-distribution-wise, I said "so the Anchor player is kinda GMing for the Pilot?" and Ben's reply was along the lines of "The Anchor player IS GMing for the Pilot, period." As Ron/Anne started describing things, I voiced my realization that since the dreamscape is generated by the Anchor (both in-game and at the meta-level), the environment is a product of the Anchor's feelings toward the Pilot. Simultaneously, the Pilot's ANIMa chassis is a product of the Pilot's feelings toward the Anchor. So the mission interactions, to a large degree, are a gestalt of both in-character and out-of-game relationships. Which is, if I'm not mistaken, exactly what Ben was aiming for. (And if not, it's a fantastically happy accident).

Tess opens her eyes at the center of a giant blue sphere. As she nears the edge, at Anne's urging, she pushes out of the membrane, and as she does so it coats her skin, forming a shell around her that takes the form of her ANIMa, which I describe a huge suit of black-laquered, gold filigree-trimmed, highly stylized Shogun armor, complete with helm featuring grim-aspected mask and kabuto-style antenna/antler/horn protrusions (http://home.catv-yokohama.ne.jp/hh/dosanko/Kabuto.jpg). I think Tess had seen something like it in a book and Anne's fierce bravery reminded her of it. I don't know if that was part of my thought process at the time, more likely I added it retroactively. Games live in my head long after I walk away from the table.

The landscape Tess finds herself over is a liquidlike blue plane extending forever, with other spheres bubbling up from it like some cheesy early-90s computer animation demo. There were also vortices leading down into the surface, and streaks of lightning played along it between them. Ready for action, Tess summons her primary weapon. Drawing on her respect for Bobby as the group's protector in meatspace, she puts her armored fists together and slowly draws them apart Voltron style (seriously, was anything that came out of the 80s more awesome than "Form Blazing Sword!"? I think not) to reveal a 30' military fork with a long red tassel (http://www.wushudirect.co.uk/acatalog/kfs075%20heavy%20tiger%20fork%20-500.jpg), which she spun overhead before slamming the pommel down on the floating disc that appeared beneath her feet, as if it existed just for that purpose (which of course it did). The floating disc began sliding forward over the bizarre dreamscape. At this point Ben broke in, it being the Authority Figure player's responsibility to introduce the enemy forces, and he described some of the bubbles popping up from the landscape to resolve themselves into the barely-formed blown-glass figures I'd suggested earlier. As Anne warns "You know they'll try to ambush you- stay alert!", Tess abruptly bends over backwards and thrusts her tri-pointed spear into the alien coming up behind her.

As Ron mentioned, we both rolled really well in all our mission conflicts, never having to assign any negatives. The upshot of this was a crapton of Bliss (unassigned negatives transform into additional Bliss). As Tess, I never put pluses in Pilot Safety (which in the Ignition Stage hardcopy of the book is still called "Nightmare", which works just as well, really), so I started earning Terror/Trauma pretty much right off the bat. That was ok. Tess' job was to protect everyone else- if it was her destiny to go down fighting, so be it. Anne alternated between coaxing Tess to accept further danger (which Tess was perfectly willing to do) and doing her best to manipulate the environment to Tess' advantage. The meta-level line between IC/OOC narrational authority is so blurry it's never fully clear whether the Anchor character knows they can manipulate the dreamtime, or whether the Anchor character believes they are simply describing it while the Anchor PLAYER manipulates it... which may confuse some people, but I find really encourages "the I word", immersion; and in this game at least, I think that's a huge plus and a design feature.

I think at this point (I may be a little shaky on order of events, but I think I'll get the gist of it across. Ben, Ron, Tim, feel free to tweak) Tess and the aliens started being drawn into one of the vortices, the floating disc tumbling away and Tess going ass over teakettle, while the blue androforms naturally stayed upright in a controlled descent. They surrounded her in three dimensions as I hastily looked over my relationships to see whom would make a good Green attachment (er... sorry, Mechaton has forever colored the giant robot part of my brain), Tess clearly needed some mobility here if she was to survive. She called on Leslie, Gina's Anchor (Intimacy 3) to unfold a pair of beetlelike wings (I debated over various wing types before deciding to stick to the kabuto theme) from under an armored shell that appeared on her back. I imagine the shell-halves popping open acting like an airbrake, stabilizing her fall, then the blur as the membranous wings kicked in, giving her a hover-dart-hover style of mobility capable of swift vector changes as well as helicopter-like stability.

As a side note, this sort of engagement-through-color is crucial to my enjoyment of play. I know Ron gets off on table-interactions, and I like that level of engagement too; but getting little frissons as you come up with just the right bit of color to add to the SIS is a huge part of why I do this rather than play Monopoly or Bingo or even WoW. When you play WoW, all the creative stuff has been done for you by somebody else. It's ok, and I can immerse myself in a well-told story (all CRPGs to the present have been, by necessity, Participationist), but online gaming has a long way to go before it can provide this sort of interaction. It'll get there, I'm confident, but not soon. Also, this probably ties in a lot with Vincent's recent discussions about SIS over at Knife Fight (although I haven't been following them and was not 100% clear on the parts I did read), the part where the SIS becomes its own source of Authority/Credibility seems to apply here. Unless I read that somewhere else. Or just made it up now. There's really too much stuff in my brain.

Tess gets grabbed from behind by one of the entities, which began clawing at the front of her armor, the plates creaking. One of its fingers grew sharp and punched, spearlike, into the front of the ANIMa. Tess could actually *SEE* it, with her own eyes, piercing through the shell and thrusting toward her. I added "And in the material world, Anne can see the goo in the tub deforming as if something huge and sharp were pushing into it towards Tess". I considered summoning another weapon. There was brief discussion (again blurring IC/OOC) about where discarded weapons/gear went if you swapped them out for another. Ben made it clear that, mechanically, once a relationship was at risk, it stayed at risk even if you weren't actively using it in the fiction. Ron/Anne narrated a door appearing nearby, leading to a sort of pocket dimension where Tess could store the fork, but I decided that if Bobby was going to remain at risk, I may as well just keep using him. So Tess twisted the handle at the center and pulled the halves apart to reveal a chain, which she swung back over her shoulders to loop around the shapeless head of the figure clutching her from behind. Pulling it tight, she flung the monster over her into the abyss. There were still several aliens to contend with, though, and Anne advised her to pull out. Tess willed herself toward the doorway, which sort of expanded relative to her without getting closer, so that the red-suffused nothingness behind it grew to encompass the alien figures as well. As the redness hit them, the lights within the blue glasslike bodies fled from it, punching out the backs and leaving the anthroforms to dissolve. The redness filled Tess' vision until it became the light shining through her eyelids, and Anne was pulling her from the tank for a victory hug.

Ok, my ass is sore from sitting here for so long, so I'ma do some laundry and post some more later. Comments and questions welcome, don't feel like you have to wait up.

Ben Lehman

Hey, Ron:

Thanks for posting this. I liked our little group as well. As it turned out, there were two sexual explosives waiting to go off: one being the increasingly ambiguous mom-dad relationship between Gina and John, the other being the oncoming puberty of "the boys," as represented in our play by Tim's Rico. In long term play, I would definitely stretch out time-between-missions more than a little in order to try to raise some of those issues.

Your 3) and 4) are accurate, but I want to make clear that -- depending on the group's color decisions -- the dream world *can* correspond to the real world, sometimes on a nearly 1-1 basis, and that the anchor *might* be reading off of instrumentation during missions, but that neither of these decisions changes two points.

The structure of play was as follows: Dave's mission, two interludes, your mission, so you are, in fact, mixing up the order.


It's interesting that you see Lesley's goals with the war ("to get things back the way they were") as also including her relationship with you as an emotional stopgap. I got a very different read from it ("I want things to be back to normal so we can be safe together), and I'd be interested to hear Dave's opinion on the topic.


I really cocked it up on the Hope business. The only thing I can do is blame that it was Sunday morning and some anxiety about running time.

Here's my thoughts: Given the particular issues we were confronting, I see no way that our group could have any hope but "I hope we can raise another generation." It's worth pointing out (and there's text in the next version to this regard) that hopes are by no means points of consensus within the group. Rather, they are the directions which the group is pointing towards in the missions, regardless of individual characters' opinions on the topic. So it would be quite possible to have a character pointing towards "no" on a hope without any sort of game breakdown.

If Tim were to continue to play with us, he would likely make a pilot character, probably taking a pre-existing character (Ann?) and having them undergo pilot training, which would bring in a second hope. That would be an interesting convo as well.

Of course, all of this is in retrospect, whereas we really should have talked about it during prep.


Ben Lehman

Hey, Simon: I'm curious about your line about anchors not necessarily having enough content authority to be mini-GMs. Another thread?

Ron Edwards

Hi guys,

Dave, you're right, I got the two kids mixed up - Bobby is the dog-fighter.

Regarding Color, I want to stress that Color is my first priority when playing, with System being its hand-maiden. Table-talk and general among-person interaction seem to me to be a different variable.

Ben, you wrote,

QuoteIt's interesting that you see Lesley's goals with the war ("to get things back the way they were") as also including her relationship with you as an emotional stopgap. I got a very different read from it ("I want things to be back to normal so we can be safe together),

I think you're jumping the gun a little. My phrasing in my post was a first try, not a fixed or finished idea, and it's strongly influenced by Gina-vision. What you wrote seems to me to be equally likely, or to put it differently, perhaps Gina herself would not distinguish between the two (regarding Leslie). I'd rather not pin my view of Leslie down after the short amount of play she saw, especially since she wasn't in an Interlude.

I am totally up for continuing this game via Skype or anything equivalent. Let's in touch by email to organize it. If that works out, then we can have a Hope discussion too.

Best, Ron

Ron Edwards

Hey Ben, I have a question!

On page 98, your text-character Chris says that for every endangered category or forced relationship, you subtract one die from your pool. This doesn't seem to match what the rules say on page 97 (which he's supposed to be clarifying in terms of procedure): according to them, all the various GM-threatening, endangering, and forcing require the player to allocate dice in certain ways, but not to reduce the total dice rolled.

Help me out on that?

Best, Ron

Ben Lehman

Darn it. I've been meaning to write a real reply to this thread, too, but I'm going to have to leave it for now and just answer the rules question.

The key is the difference between threaten and endanger, both of which are technical terms. Threatening a relationship means "place an extra die, read the lowest" and uses one trauma. Endangering means "place two extra dice, read the lowest" (essentially a "double threaten") and uses three trauma. Thus, if the GM chooses to Endanger one category rather than Threaten three, you have to allocate one die less than you normally* would. Forcing a relationship (which adds an extra category at the cost of two trauma) also means you have to allocate one less die than normal*.

This is what Chris is saying. At no point do you actually roll any less dice than the total intimacy of your active relationships. The text is not as clear as can be. It's a relatively simple process in play (you have to place 8 dice, take your eight highest) but describing it gets very complicated.


* Where normal here is taken to mean "GM uses all trauma for threatening."

Nev the Deranged

I'm wondering if it's worthwhile for me to finish my recollection of the game, which is mostly color- I think I covered all the at-the-table stuff in my first post. Should I post the rest to help jog the memories of the other participants, or not sweat it?

I'm not opposed to giving Skype a go- I've never used it before, and from what I've heard on podcasts, it's pretty temperamental. I have no idea how well the game would work over it, socially. I also have no idea what kind of time commitment we're talking about. I'm willing to give it a shot if you guys are, with the understanding that it might end up being suboptimal, logistically speaking.