[Bliss Stage] Kids having kids

Started by Ron Edwards, October 29, 2010, 03:54:47 PM

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Ron Edwards

The latest Dice Dojo game will probably go into further sessions as well, as we made a very solid start. Playing are me, Sam, Shweta (her first-ever RPG session!), Jake, and Phil. I'd played the game before ([Bliss Stage] Men and girls), but not GMed before. You can find the handout I used here, and any comments on it are welcome with the proviso that it's still in development.

I confess I haven't kept up with Bliss Stage's development and am still using the Ignition Stage book I bought a few years ago. If Ben or someone could give a quick summary of the version or versions which have been released since then (I mean just a list of titles, not an extensive description of content), I'd appreciate it.

The Dice Dojo is located in the north side of Chicago, not too far from Lake Michigan, so when one of the players suggested that our resistance cell was based in the remains of a university, with an emphasis on the tunnels beneath campus, I suggested Loyola University, in one of the science buildings. That led to the Authority being created, Dr. Scott Montgomery, an archaeologist professor, obsessive researcher; convinced that his ancient Aztec artifacts are the key to the Bliss. The group's main practical problem is water, with the added difficulty of the alien effect on it.

We briefly discussed the dream world, deciding that it appeared as a disturbingly artificial idyllic woodland with curving Escher effects. We only briefly touched on the aliens' appearance in the dream world, arriving at a horrific spider theme, which as it happened, really squicked people out during play. In both of these discussions, I stayed pretty quiet, only contributing when it felt to me that I was rounding out what someone else said. We moved into character creation, working off the templates, arriving at:

Jake: Jimmy, 16, hedonist
Phil: Iain, 17, veteran
Sam: Timmy, 14, eager young soldier
Shweta: Tina, 13, innocent novice

I decided to go with two Anchors, the minimum from the rules to keep the total character count down a little: Amira, 17 and Sean, 15. Whoops, I just realized we totally skipped the rule that you name Anchors based on your high-school crushes - damn. Further discussion created some more kids: Will the tough one vs. the dogs (clearly a Bliss Stage archetype) at 15, Leelee a non-English speaker at 12, Christy the responsible water manager at 16, and a very little boy named Gus, 4 (more about him in a minute).

Everyone assigned various characters as relationships, which worked out very interestingly. One Anchor, Amira turns out to have had sex with both Jimmy and Iain, and just about with Timmy, but with very little Trust for Jimmy or Timmy. The other Anchor, Sean, turns out to have a close but negative relationship with Jimmy, and a solid relationship only with Tina. So there's kind of two cliques going on, possibly with Timmy as a kind of social loose cannon. Also, one startling, edgy bit got added at this point, when Phil suggested that one of the kids, Gus, was only four, and that his character Iain and Amira are his parents. Later, we established that Sam played Amira except for the Interlude when Timmy and Amira interacted, and Phil played Sean.

The hopes for the game are: I hope we can figure out what's up with the Bliss, I hope we can defeat the aliens, I hope we can ensure future generations. Sam commented that he perceived the resistance group as rather mature, given the parenting, the hopes that were either decisive or forward-looking, and the relatively high ages of the chosen characters.

We ran the first Mission just as in the book instructs, with all the Pilots going in sequence,  each with the same two Mission Goals to stop the drones and defeat the enemy pilot. Jimmy the hotshot busted out a great roll and emerged from the tank exuberant, having splattered bloated evil-human-faced spiders all over the plasticine-green trees, with his "white knight, all tech and rounded edges" ANIMa. Iain's ANIMa was very old-school, beginning as a kind of cheap-looking rocket that he walks to and gets into in the dream-world, then transforming into a fighting robot as Relationship feature. Of course, I had him fly into a big web, and as he was coping with that, discover that the main spider-thing was already in the cockpit with him. He succeeded at the cost of some Trauma. Tina did some exploring of the forest in her Roman-motif ANIMa, which Shweta described as being clearly under-protective due to her character's naivete. She was nabbed from above, and her fight was pretty desperate, including getting extremely stabbed by spider legs after she'd bashed its head in with her shield, and Sean even lost control of the dream-world. Tina came out of the tank in near-catatonic panic. Timmy's run showed how deceptive the aliens might be as they lured him into a trap with a simulacrum of Dr. Montgomery, and he too experienced damaging psychological effects, breaking his Relationship with Amira to succeed (note: he was being Anchored by Sean, so this wasn't as disastrous as it sounds.)

Boy, do I love being the monster guy!! Nightmarish, horrible, surrealistic imagery is what I do. Since damage in the dream world can be as extreme as I want, I started small and added a little bit more and a little bit more each time a player took some Terror and/or Trauma. I found that with this group, a little goes a long way, and apparently the spider-fear around the table was sincere enough to add a lot too. When Tina was stabbed by multiple pointy spider-legs, it was a big deal. Starting with Iain's Mission, I also started intimating that the aliens knew about Gus and wanted him for some reason.

At this point, I'm running mainly with the notion that the aliens are malevolent, or at least that whatever interface they have with human reality, the effects and expressions are malevolent. That may become softened or more complex with time, but the Hope is to defeat them, not understand them, and I don't plan on making them sympathetic all of a sudden during play.

As the first-time GM, I was responsible for one misplay: we forgot to add safety for relationships brought in via ANIMa activation during the first two mission scenes. We fixed that quickly and moved on, acknowledging that things might have been tad more tense with them in there.

Table-talk often acknowledged cool emergent rules features. A couple that were most relevant for us included: (i) the fun significance of too many plus results in your roll, resulting in much more Bliss; (ii) that Terror cannot be assuaged through Interludes and hence, if you reduce Trauma, the Terror may lurk at a high value to become Trauma almost immediately during the next Mission. At least, I hope that's the way it works, because it's pretty cool.

As I found in the previous game, the Interlude structure of play works wonderfully. Ours included Jimmy putting the moves on Tina, boosting their Intimacy to 4; Iain and Gus sharing quality time, including a heartbreaking moment when we saw the metal cabinet where all the little kids' drawings are posted; and the epilogue to the broken Relationship between Timmy and Amira, which Sam played much in the sense of PTSD. Everyone at the table took judging quite seriously, and some effort's being made to develop the Anchors' personalities and perspectives. Only a beginning at this point, but I can see the attention being paid.

There is nothing like a first-time role-player in a game like this! Jake and Shweta delivered a particularly good Interlude, and I think Jake was a bit surprised at how straightforwardly Tina responded to Jimmy's come-on, in sort of a "You do?" moment. It wasn't graphic but the content was definite - a classic example of good Veiling. I was really impressed with how effective this was. Here were two people who'd only just met playing teenagers necking and petting for the first time, and it was realistic, understandable, a bit disturbing because Jimmy's a bit of a jerk, a bit of a relief because Tina was recovering from her traumatic mission experience, and yet 100% non-creepy and non-indulgent at the level of the real people at the table.

I would like to follow up on that point regarding under-age sex and thematic content for Bliss Stage later in the thread.

As I mentioned, we're probably going to continue this game. But one thing concerns me a little - is the Bliss Stage arc too slow? You can soak 28 Terror through the life of a character, in addition to the 6 that might kill him or her, unless you Bliss Out instead, which needs to go to 108 Bliss in dribs and drabs of 3 and 1. Unless Missions have multiple goals, it'll take forever! especially with four pilots. Am I reading this wrong? Has anyone played the game out through the resolution of all the Hopes? How many Missions did this take?

I'm starting to look for the end runs: multiple-pilot missions (with concomitant pressure on relationships across sheets), hotshotting, Id situations, every imaginable way to threaten categories and risk relationships, and more. Seems like most of that stuff relies on people being willing to assign blanks and negatives to Pilot Safety, because Trauma is the GM's main source for those rules. Ben, any thoughts?

Best, Ron

Ben Lehman

Hey, Ron.

Quick question response post.

The game is designed for 4-6 sessions. There's some factors in the game which cause Bliss and Trauma to accelerate as the game goes on. In my experience ... it usually takes 4-6 sessions.

Terror drops to zero at the end of a mission, so it doesn't have the effect you talk about. (the exception is if you get terror from a real-world source ... I'm trying to remember if this is present anywhere in the rules ... I think it may be. Regardless, it's easy to imagine that it could enter via either physical/mental violence or via the "monsters enter the real world" result for a broken anchor relationship. Anyway, since terror only zeroes at the end of a mission, that terror sticks around until it flops into trauma or you finish a mission.)

In general, the first missions (when all the characters are juiced up with their starting stats, not very traumatized, small number of mission goals, etc) are the easiest. They get harder from there.

Some notes on how to make things faster:

1) In general, most missions are 3-6 goals (take a look at examples in the book.) So that's increased. You can do as many goals as you want. If you want to be nasty (accelerating endgame in the process), do a 10 goal mission, or do a rapid series of 5 goal missions with no interludes (other than the privileged) between them.

2) Barring privileged interludes, there are as many interludes as you, the GM, want to have. By ratcheting this down, you can push towards Trauma build-up, which accelerates the game.

3) If you want to encourage hot-shotting, offer players a chance to do things that they want, in the dream world, by going off the mission path. You can be explicit about this, if you want: "well ... you don't know what they're saying ... but you could hotshot a mission goal to find out ..."

4) Threatening Mission and Safety is good for making missions suck, which accelerates endgame. Doing some heavy threatening (weak relationships, mission) and then changing that up with something like Total Panic or bringing in a new relationship (which takes less dice) is a good way to generate bliss via + results.

5) Introducing new characters (yay! Pregnancy!) does slow the game. By making sure that these relationships are things you don't want to be damaged (yay! Pregnancy!) you can really crank up pressure (and, thus, endgame) by threatening them in missions.

6) Remember that relationship breaking adds 3x intimacy in bliss to both parties (this varies between 2x and 3x over the course of the book: the 2x stuff is an error.) This is a very fast way to build bliss, particularly if a character blisses out or dies (which rolls this effect over to everyone who had a relationship with them.)

I'm going to ask a better GM than I to take a look and see if I missed anything.

Ron Edwards

Bummer about Terror, but we'll do it by the rules. I greatly appreciate the reminder about broken Relationships and Bliss! That's going to make a big difference.

I can see that I'll have to be more precise about mission goals. In Timmy's mission run, I now see I could have interpreted going to save the dummy version of Montgomery to have been a new mission goal. Probably the best place to start with that is being very clear about the stated goals in terms of accomplishing them in definite terms during the mission, rather than merely fighting something I throw at them and all of us figuring that somehow does the trick.

My only problem with minimizing the Interludes is that I really like the Interludes ...

4-6 sessions, huh? I'll be interested to see how it goes.

Best, Ron

Phil K.

Having terror clear out between missions would change how we did things quite a bit.

One thing I like about the game is having a strong idea of what your character's priorities are will have an enormous impact on the task resolution. My character, Iain, would almost never put a minus on his relationship with Gus. The first plus that came up was always assigned to Gus, it just seemed like the thing to do with the character I'd defined. This created a lot of tension in the missions because my priority wasn't the mission or my own safety.

Ben Lehman

Hey, I had a talk with Alexis, and with her permission, here's an edited chat transcript:

Alexis: the best way to get pilots to accumulate lots of bliss or trauma is to make the goals something that they want to attain
Alexis: otherwise they can just fail
I have a few ways to do this:
  1. threaten to hurt or kill people (this one shouldn't be overused)
2. chained goals (you can't do step 3 without doing step 4). But this works best if the first goal isn't chained, because then there's less at stake if you fail it, weirdly
Alexis: whereas if someone has succeeded in the first two steps, they're not going to fail the third and thuse give up on the fourth
  well, less likely
Alexis: 3) manipulate the pilots (my favorite). Make pilots feel responsible for their failure.
  In one con game, I had someone come in saying that they couldn't do anymore missions (their bliss was in the 90s) my authority figure was like, "oh, of course, thats fine. I'll give the next few missions to your best friend instead"

Alexis: or if there's someone who really wants to go on a mission, don't let them, because you're not sure they're good enough, and then they'll promise to do well. Or, "okay, we'll train your younger sister as a pilot."
  these of course depend on the authority figure
  a more military one would do something like the second example

an "incompetent" authority figure can damage pilots by pairing them with bad anchors

basically, three of the best ways to rack up bliss are making the goals fictionally/mechanically important, making the pilots commit themselves to doing well, and assigning pilots to the wrong anchors

Ben Lehman

Oh, hey, looking at your sheet I caught one more rules thing: Mission goals must be taken one at a time. Which goal is addressed by any given roll is kinda up to the fiction and largely in the hands of the anchor and pilot, but only one goal per roll. Your wording is kinda ambiguous.

And I just caught the last question. Yeah, the GM being able to make players' lives miserable relies on blanks in trauma (though see Alexis's advice above). Remember that for a character with zero trauma, even a blank result will mean an immediate gain in one trauma, usable at the next roll. There's actually a tie-in here with terror dropping to zero at the end of a mission: trauma both is a damage track but is also the "terror capacity" you can take without further consequence. This "light consequence" allows more traumatized characters to drop a blank into Pilot Safety from time to time. Of course, these do add up, and if something goes wrong it could be quite bad for them.

So yay. That's rules and tactics stuff (gosh why did I write such a crunchy game?)

I'm interested in the Iain / Gus relationship that Phil mentions (Hi Phil! Welcome to the Forge!). What was it rated at? How did it play out in interludes? I think it's really telling that Iain wants to protect his son absolutely but at the same time doesn't flinch about putting him at risk by using that relationship in a mission.

Are you guys going to play again? I'm really interested to see where some of these relationships go in the future (like, is Tina using Jimmy as an emotionally safe boy to experiment with or does she really have a thing for him? As the Innocent, she has to put some effort into building intimacy early in the game, so it'll be neat to see how that manifests.)

J. Tuomas Harviainen

Quote from: Ron Edwards on October 30, 2010, 04:52:03 AMI greatly appreciate the reminder about broken Relationships and Bliss! That's going to make a big difference.

If I remember correctly, that's the mechanic responsible for effectively all of the bliss-outs during the playtest runs we did here in Turku, Finland for the game, as well as our later games. It's also so loaded with narrative potential that I absolutely love that systems idea. It took us down in 3-6 sessions each time, in a very fine manner.

Quotecan see that I'll have to be more precise about mission goals.

Interesting - that's the pit I fell into, too, before we re-examined the exact rules.

QuoteMy only problem with minimizing the Interludes is that I really like the Interludes ...

Same here - playing with a bunch of Finnish immersionists, we could have extended those to no end.

An interesting aside I think I mentioned to Ben after our playtests: I think the tone of some scenes changes strongly from one country to the next. Over here, the age of consent is 16, and it's not even an absolute in the case of teenagers having sex with each other. That means if there's any discomfort during sexually charged scenes, it comes almost solely from the players being uncomfortable with each other, not any issues of legal age.

Ron Edwards

Hi everyone, and welcome, Phil!

Ben, thanks for the clarification about Terror. Since each Pilot has only been on one Mission so far, we haven't borked the system yet with that particular detail. Regarding your and Alexis' advice, that is very helpful. I really get what you're saying and I am on it for sure.

Tuomas, I appreciate that post a lot.

For conversational and comparative purposes, I'll state my perspective on age of consent in the States. The simple fact is that very many kids here, perhaps most, are already sexually active by then. Most of the discourse tends to ignore this fact or to treat it as evidence that absolutely urgent and draconian measures be taken to make it stop. Some, at least, of U.S. society doesn't find much wrong with 16 and 17 year olds having sex, but a lot of it does. The state laws make a big mess out things, giving rise to the long-familiar charge of "transporting minors across a state line for immoral purposes" (see this interesting summary and map to see how diverse it is, just like legal age of drinking and to a lesser extent, driving.

The federal law and some states' programs have twisted this confusion into absurdity. Today, parents have been designated sex offenders and are identifiable as such, including their names and addresses, on the internet via government information sites, for such "crimes" for giving permission to their kids of age 16 to have sex with a boyfriend or girlfriend. I think this latter phenomenon is pretty horrible and my views tend toward the more permissive end for this issue, but living in the shadow of this law has a chilling effect on one's value system and may even change it when one is not paying attention.

So that leads me to think more about what makes sex among the older kids in Bliss Stage problematic for me. It isn't so much the fact that they're doing it, but rather that it's happening among members of what is effectively a surrogate family. They've all banded together in the semblance of a family for purposes of survival and now, resistance. An additional factor for me is that there's probably very little attention to birth control, so the consequences of what (to my eyes) would be self-oriented experiential and experimental acts become serious business, as our group immediately seized upon as our core thematic content.

It raises the issue of what the Authority really is, for any particular play group and Bliss Stage. Parent? Well, kind of. But a parent who may well be having sex, or has done so, with one or more of the youths in his or her care. Resistance leader? Well, kind of. But perhaps only as initiator, as it's clear from the mechanics that the Authority really isn't an essential cog in the basic activities of the resistance cell, and also perhaps diminished in this role if and when some of the Pilots are veterans.

I'm interested in whether or how much you agree with the following ideas. I think an honest appraisal of the game shows how freaking ambitious and trenchant it is. "Big robots! Evangelion!" is a means, not the goal. Bliss Stage is seriously about underage sex in a time of forced maturation and overwhelming responsibility, and the edge but real potential for sexual abuse. Some of us here have some personal history with this issue, and a few have been brave enough to bring it forward as an issue in thoughtful RPG design. See especially Silence Keeps Me a Victim for some solid work on this material: Theory from the Closet interview and Master Mines discussion.

My take on the game is that Bliss Stage is aggressive social and psychological science fiction because it raises these issues and because the various fantastic elements accentuate and productively distort the ordinary context for thinking about the issue. The Love is My Weapon Bliss Stage fan site is a great place in all other ways, but at one point, a thread which raised this question elicited a kneejerk "no it isn't, that's horrible, never think that" response which is pure ass. Overlooking the deliberately charged and very definitely possibly transgressive content is to deny the courage of the design. I am not saying Bliss Stage endorses or promotes underage sex. I am saying that Ben has placed the issue - which is real - right up front for a confrontational creative examination, in the productive distortion that (to my eyes) defines great science fiction. This is not safe stuff. This is Dangerous Visions, just as Ellison conceived his first anthology of that name in the mid-60s.

Best, Ron

Phil K.


The Iain/Gus relationship was rated 3/3, which seemed the most appropriate of the stats I had available. First, it is the highest trust factor of any of the relationships. That certainly seemed natural.  Second, while I expect the two to be close, neither description for 4 or 5 in intimacy felt like they made much sense for the relationship. This may be because of the way that intimacy was described to us, Ron's description was rather brief and focused on the physical/sexual aspects of intimacy. (Please don't construe that comment as a slight. We only had three hours to learn the rules, make characters and play. It was necessary and certainly set the tone of the game. I'm certainly happy with it.) All I remember specifically is that intimacy 5 was "blood and sex." That's not really how I picture a father/son relationship.

The main reason Iain used Gus in battle is because so much of my concept of Iain was bound up in that relationship. Once I hit up on the idea, it really drove me toward the character concept. I don't think it's possible to have that relationship and not let it affect you. The psychological ramifications of being the father of the next (last?) generation of mankind at the age of 14 must be profound. Iain's take on all of this was to try and be the best father he can with the time he has. Remember, Iain is the veteran and 17. He is almost certain to die soon and he knows it. Gus naturally became the center of his life, even during [because of?] this horrific war.  What better to drive you to fight and win the war than the life of your child? Even if you aren't consciously drawing on it, that relationship will still be there.  It just never made sense to have this relationship be Iain's reason for fighting and not bring it into combat.

The other important relationship was with Amira - Gus' mother. It features intimacy 5 and trust 1. I don't know what happened between Iain and Amira but it's a relationship very well near the breaking point. My conception of it during play was that Iain would have cut ties with her already if it weren't for Gus... sort of like a bad marriage at the age of 17.  If we continue play, I would like to explore opportunities to rebuild that relationship; Iain is looking to extend the olive branch. It is rather vital that he have her relationship still, he did not define a relationship with the other anchor.

Oh, and it may help to get a sense of the character to know this: at character creation, I had to burn two relationships. I forget what the first was, but the second was our authority figure, Dr. Scott Mongomery.  That seems important.

J. Tuomas Harviainen

Quote from: Ron Edwards on November 05, 2010, 12:31:09 AMMy take on the game is that Bliss Stage is aggressive social and psychological science fiction because it raises these issues and because the various fantastic elements accentuate and productively distort the ordinary context for thinking about the issue.

There's also (as both a strength and as a potential thing to make players uncomfortable) the inexperience factor. Teen intimacy is awkward by its nature, due to inexperience, social pressures and issues of trust. For instance, playing a heavy petting scene between adult characters might just feel out of place, because adults tend to handle sex very differently, even those not comfortable with their sexuality, as long as they have at least some experience.

Combining that awkwardness with the survivor-situation, issues of authority (possible intra-hierarchy sexual relationships included) and the stress the missions place upon everything is in my opinion the true power of this game. By way of mechanics (combat) it allows for loads of highly emotional, immersive play, which is accentuated by the characters being, in more ways than one, placed outside their "safety zones", yet craving for comfort and safety nevertheless. That's also why stretching out the interludes seems so damn attractive.

Ron Edwards

Hi everybody,

I don't know whether this is permitted by the rules, but it seems to me that if Iain had been present at Gus' birth, and I imagine he was, that we could change the Intimacy to 5. Again, I don't know if this is compatible with the rules that you get several specific numbers combinations and allocate them.

Tuomas, my only possible response is "yes!" and to point to your post whenever anyone asks me about Bliss Stage.

Best, Ron

Ben Lehman

Ron Edwards


We continued our game, although Jake couldn't make it this time. Therefore the Pilots were Tina played by Shweta, Timmy played by Sam, and Iain played by Phil; Peter hung out with us and was able to play one of the secondary characters, Will, during an Interlude. Fortunately both of our Anchor players were present, with Phil playing Sean and Sam playing Amira.

My main concerns as GM were (1) to turn up the mechanical pressure, such that both Trauma and Bliss would be front and center; and (2) put characters together in Interludes whose interactions seemed to me could be relevant to the Hopes. Part of the latter, too, was to play my characters with a strong sense of self and participation in the resistance.

We started with a Mission scene for the most inexperienced/youngest Pilot, Tina. It was quite odd - no alarms were going off, it wasn't during the ordinary time for investigative or patrolling missions, but rather in the middle of the night, under great secrecy. Dr. Montgomery told her and her anchor, Sean, that his research had revealed some kind of central alien location, which he called the "altar." Tina's job was to find it and return without being tracked.

This turned out to be a pretty elaborate mission. I found myself doing something I thought I wouldn't, and brought the parents into it after all, all webbed up and their brain cavities serving as hosts for the spider-aliens. I was pleasantly surprised on reviewing the group's Hopes that they included figuring out what's up with the Bliss, meaning, the added content was actually relevant. Eventually, Tina failed her goal of finding the "altar," but succeeded in some clue-hunting (a goal she stated in-mission) and in evading pursuit.

I borked her Terror rules again! I'd resolved that rules issue with Phil and forgotten that it applied to Shweta as well. Damn! Because of that, Tina probably has not mechanically earned all three points of Trauma she's carrying. I'll fix that for next session.

I ran a lot of Interludes, one for each Pilot in this case. The first introduced the supporting character Will, the tough kid who protects the small community from the feral dogs. Iain turned out to be concerned about safety in general, and his conversation with Will ended up forming a Relationship with him. I think it's important that Iain, the oldest Pilot and also the only father in the story, broke his relationship with Dr. Montgomery in the first session. I'm planning on working that up in an Interlude one of these days. But for now, it was kind of fun to see the character interacting while not in crisis.

The second Interlude was between Dr. Montgomery and Tina, debriefing the mission. My brief narration following the Mission showed him as pretty frantic about the altar, but he was calm and a bit detached in the Interlude and very interested in the clues she'd found. He told her very strictly not to tell anyone about the mission, and they were judged to have built Intimacy 3 via an involved conversation. Oh - incidentally, we've finished every mission so far with a visual account of how the Pilot emerges from the tank, which has turned out to be quite important for characterization.

The third Interlude was between Timmy and Sean, as the former had heard some noises in the night and was suspicious about the secret mission. Sean didn't fully disclose, but made at least one verbal slip that heightened Timmy's concern. His friendly slap to Sean's shoulder built Intimacy as well, as a friendly gesture.

We moved into the next Mission scene, which I decided to set up as a two-Pilot, fully allied situation for Iain & Timmy. They were to draw fire from the aliens, luring them 'way away from whatever it was that the aliens do when they're not raiding or being attacked. The observer (i.e. player, real-person view) could put two and two together, linking Dr. Montgomery's interest in the "altar" with getting the aliens distracted, but none of the characters had enough information to do so.

In this case, both Pilot players were playing one another's Anchor as well, which made for a very active verbal "space" across us. I played the aliens differently; in Tina's mission, they were constantly present and threatening as she had to work and sneak her way through their valued areas, whereas in this one, they were absent or nearly so all the way up into the roll, because the whole point was to get the aliens' attention. I quite liked the Threat rules and chose what to Threaten very carefully. The mission was successful but not without its damage, especially placing a lot of Stress into relationships. Timmy broke another one, and at least four, maybe five of them ended racked right at Stress = Trust.

We ended with two Interludes. The first was between Amira and Tina, beginning with the older girl and essentially the mother-figure of the small community giving the younger a veiled warning about Timmy and establishing some foundation for support if needed, and she also inadvertently found out about the secret mission. (This may lead to a Humanization Interlude between her and Dr. Montgomery later, I'm thinking.) This scene built Trust. There was an implied more-sex scene with Tina and Jimmy as well, but since Jimmy was out of the camera's eye this session, we merely referenced it - perhaps it'll be a Flashback some time. Shweta allowed as how their Intimacy stayed at 4, though.

The second and final Interlude, like their Mission, included both of the other Pilots, as Iain & Timmy got drunk on vodka to celebrate and unwind from their joint mission. The conversation exposed irreconcilable differences between their views; Iain loathes the Bliss and the missions in general, and wants nothing more than to give Gus some semblance of a normal life, whereas Timmy uses the missions as a high, and also as an escape from the painful relationships he's wrapped up in. They gained more Intimacy on the basis of the drunken banter, but the actual content of that Intimacy turned out to be rather grim.

Things do seem to be proceeding faster than I expected, primarily due to the Blissfulness of breaking relationships. Iain is more than half the way to Blissing Out; Tina is (perhaps unfairly) halfway to dying; Timmy is alarmingly willing to start and break relationships, and Sam is getting interested in the rules for when you break a relationship with your Anchor and when you have no ANIMa to draw on. That's working out fine, but to me, it seems thematically sound to link the dream-fighting experience to Bliss a little more solidly. I guess if I wanted to tweak the mechanics at all, I'd increase the Bliss from Missions, denying the possibility of 0 Bliss, perhaps putting 1 Bliss per blank, 5 per plus, and 2 or 3 per minus, or something like that.

We haven't seen any Flashbacks yet, but we talked about the rules for them and everyone became very interested. So I suspect they'll show up later.

Regarding my prep and thoughts about the big picture, we know that the aliens are concerned with Gus somehow, and that they are involved with parents and the Bliss somehow, although the latter connection is clearly complex. I have to work a bit on how I want to throw observations about the parents at the characters, because unless I'm misunderstanding, the exact nature of that connection will be subject to multiple people's narration, not merely my prep.

Our Authority is coming off as a little scary with his occult/ancient obsession, his secret missions, and the fact that he assigned the two guys the mission goal of drawing fire but neglected to specify that they get back safely. I'm not too directed at this moment regarding how nuts or counter-productive Dr. Montgomery is, being more interested in how he's perceived and raising the issue of who's in charge. Although I have not yet concocted his rational back-story, to whatever extent there is one, I won't play him directly against the resistance cell's Hopes - whatever it is he's doing, and why, will be consistent with those, and play itself will show whether they're acceptable in terms of leadership and details.

I was much more careful this time to make sure that a given Mission goal was being directly sought before permitting dice to be rolled; and this time we also understood and followed the rule only one Mission goal could be addressed at a time. Both of these led directly to more vivid and more content-rich missions.

All of us enjoy the way that the Interludes and Missions are deeply connected in terms of pure plot, and at least one person has observed what I've also read on-line, that it's the Interludes which seem to be the primary scene type.

Best, Ron


Hi Ron,

QuoteThey gained more Intimacy on the basis of the drunken banter, but the actual content of that Intimacy turned out to be rather grim.

I feel like Bliss Stage can be described as "Joyful Wincing" - the character interactions are very human and real, and yet the craziness of it all infects everything, forcing you to wince at the same time.



Perhaps sex in our (Ron's) game has been taken a bit too lightly so far, as I haven't had any real winces yet. In fact, it is getting somewhat hard getting into the character of a 14-year-old, mostly because I'm not having many reminders in my environment to do so. That may just be my failing so far.

Regarding interludes, it feels to me that most of the character development has been during missions, with interludes not being very developmental at all. Therefore, limiting them does not seem a major loss. However, my character (Timmy) has not really fleshed out yet - I'm still not sure who he is, and maybe asking for a specific interlude can solve that.