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Author Topic: Bliss Stage: Crimson Pandora  (Read 9350 times)

Posts: 280

« on: January 15, 2011, 05:21:00 PM »

Hi everyone,

I ran a Bliss Stage one-shot convention scenario I put together today at the Endgame Minicon.
( http://bankuei.wordpress.com/2011/01/15/bliss-stage-crimson-pandora/ ).

We had 6 players, 2 whom I play with regularly, 4 whom I never played with before, only 1 who has played Bliss Stage previously.  We had a great time with a 3 hour game, and I figured I'd share a bit about what I learned in the process.


Prepping a one-shot for Bliss Stage is harder than running a campaign for Bliss Stage.  That is, Bliss Stage is set up in such a way that play generates the most important and compelling issues- when you skip that, you, the GM or person prepping the scenario, have to take up that work.

The other half of work I put in was all orientation and flow.  The big thing I had seen in the couple of games I've played in was that players sometimes had a bit of a cognitive jump to make, since Bliss Stage doesn't give you "character stats" in a traditional sense.  That is, players expect a character sheet to tell you something that you can use to get an idea of what a character can do and how well they can do it- in this case, I made little quicksheets for both Pilots and Anchors including a few bits about what their roles are.

Finding a group voice

One thing that I think Bliss Stage runs heavily on, is the group finding a common voice in how you deal with everyone contributing to the fiction.  It's not so much structurally an issue, as much as groups feeling each other out in reading each other's social cues and being comfortable to contribute in creatively daring ways.  (and of course, figuring out who all the characters -are- which generally is built up over play).

The first Mission was folks finding their footing, but when we got to the Interlude scenes right after, everything hit it's stride.  The prepped character issues + the mission provided fuel for the drama to kick off.  That then loaded up the emotional stakes for the events in the second, and last mission.

Authority or Not...

So, the games I've played in previously, have always had the authority figure as a pretty much complete dick.  I designed my scenario with the idea I wanted a well-intentioned but damaged and perhaps not ideal Authority Figure.  (Source material example: Misato from Neon Genesis Evangelion).

In this case, I didn't have to initiate much other than set up the missions.  One of the Pilots chose to set up an Interlude scene to confront the Authority Figure ("Prof." Alison Delacruz.   Actually a Physics grad student who has been losing her mind in her "research/timecube theories" since the Bliss hit.).   Alison's bad behavior came from emotionally shutting out the pilot and simply refusing to budge in her certainty that sacrifices had to be made.   Eeep.

Overall, though, she came off more a broken person in a broken situation than a scary authority figure in any sense.

The players lead the way

Obviously in the interlude scenes, it's really about the players making content, but it was really cool to see the Anchors generating a lot of the conflict and problems during the Missions.  I found myself less having to generate situational problems and more simply embellishing the Anchor's choices.

I could see how once a group was comfortable with the rules and had their voice, the GM's roles become very relaxed- play NPCs, fill in color on the world, and come together with some Missions.

Stumbling Block

The only place I found I had to do an adjustment was the Bliss stats for the characters.  I had initially set it much more conservatively, and had everyone bump up by 20 points before the 2nd mission.   I'm going to have to run the scenario a few more times and get the numbers better, but my goal is to make it such that at least ONE pilot Blisses out, and possibly 2 pilots, by the mid-end of the second Mission.

Folks interested in what happened in the game fiction can find AP here:
( http://bankuei.wordpress.com/2011/01/16/bliss-stage-actual-play/ )

Overall, everyone had a great time and I'm interested in hearing questions or experiences from other folks who've played/run Bliss Stage.

Ben Lehman

Posts: 2183


« Reply #1 on: January 17, 2011, 03:22:05 PM »

Thanks for running this and posting about it!

Can you talk a little more about how the players who only played Anchors worked out? That's something which I've been wanting to include as an option in the new book or even making it the default, but I'd love to get some more insight into it.



Posts: 280

« Reply #2 on: January 17, 2011, 09:10:48 PM »

Hi Ben,

It worked out really well.  I was worried that the Anchor players might not feel "in the game" enough since Anchors have relatively little mechanical choices during Missions, but they all really enjoyed it. 

One thing that I did note was really different than the few other times I've played is that the players were quicker to identify with, and highlight issues for their characters and the Pilot/Anchor relationships.

On both the Anchor quicksheets, and in explaining play during the session, I emphasized that Anchors are like "mini-GMs" in that they're the ones describing the visuals, in character, that they are like "mission control" or Operators from the Matrix - such that they have an active role in giving tactical advice and directions, and finally, that they have the option to eject the pilot.

The one mechanical change that came with having some players being only Anchors was having Anchors get guaranteed Interlude scenes as well- I gave Interludes to the Pilots first, then the Anchors.  That worked out perfectly and gave everyone a chance to both get a scene and to judge a scene. 

I'd want to try it out a few more times, for sure, but I think that because Anchors don't -need- to buff relationships the same way Pilots do, they tend to spend their Interludes in a different way, often highlighting some interesting social dynamics or issues amongst the Resistance.

An interesting side effect was that the Anchors did a lot of fun cross-talk with each other as the Missions were going on.   Sometimes this was just fun color - "What? Your pilot's seeing giant eyes?  Here, look through my notebook.  The eye section is in the back." and sometimes it was foreshadowing to Interlude scenes, "What?!? You're going to get him killed telling him that!!!"


Posts: 16

« Reply #3 on: March 02, 2011, 04:47:59 PM »

Hi Ben,
I was one of the Anchor-only characters.  I was also the player with the previous Bliss Stage experience.

Socially, over half the group was people I had just met, and so playing a secondary character meant that I didn't have to constantly be the center of attention or be creatively on the spot - roles that I'm more comfortable playing in a group that I know well.

I enjoyed anchor-only play quite a bit, actually.  Piloting can be *very* intense.  Only Anchoring let me step back a little and enjoy the ride (to mix metaphors), focusing on aspects of the game that I hadn't delved into much before.

Like describing (creating, actually) the dream world.  In previous BS games I had been dissatisfied with my dream-world contributions due to vagueness and lack of detail.  I would toss something off that would let us keep playing but I didn't feel like I was living up to the potential of the premise.  In this game, for the first time, I was really happy with the craziness of the dream world because I was able to focus on inventing stuff.  And on re-incorporating and building on the things the other anchor players had invented.  In fact I think the three anchor players got into a bit of friendly one-ups-man-ship to describe the craziest stuff.  (Buildings coming to life and attacking you with rusty-girder javelins! The alien landing pad unfolding like flower pedals! Trains corkscrewing through flooded tunnels lined with pulsating purple alien viscera!).

In terms of character interaction, I accepted from the start that my role was to be a supporting character - play was more about supporting the development of the more central characters rather than developing my own character.  I don't mind this (and it was a nice change from my other ongoing game where I put a LOT of creative energy into developing my own character).  It was a bit like playing in somebody else's spotlight episode in a PTA game: I can think about *their* character issue instead of mine and use my character to create situations that bring that issue into focus.

In drama-school terms, I'm the 'static' character or the 'foil', and the pilot is the 'dynamic' character.  The pregen character sheet that Chris handed me made my character out to be an annoyingly cheerful and optimistic girl who is hugely posessive of her boyfriend, the pilot.  So I just played that to the hilt, and it worked.  A lot of the other characters (as spelled out in their pregens) thought I was a total bee-yotch -- (I was actually taken aback by how viciously some of the other players expressed this.  Like, wow, usually people dial it down a little when playing with strangers for the first time.  Good thing we were all mature enough to separate character from player; I could see some of the insults we exchanged ripping apart a less mature group...)  Anyway, I just played up the rivalries unapologetically with the intent of providing grist for others.  I think it worked.

Getting to declare interludes was nice, and because I didn't have Trauma or Terror or anything I was able to just call the scenes that I thought would be fun to play - there was none of the pull towards tactical allocation of interlude scenes that I felt as a pilot in a full campaign.

Anyway, it was fun!  I would totally do it again.

Posts: 16

« Reply #4 on: March 02, 2011, 05:03:38 PM »

Oh, I had a really interesting conversation with Sushu on the ride home.  She had not played before and was unclear on some things even after playing.

One was that she wasn't clear on how much weight to give to the fictional description of an aNIMA sub-system.  Like, if the first time I pull in *this* relationship, I narrate it as giving me rocket boosters.  Does that mean that it must be rocket boosters every subsequent time I use it?

And if it's rocket boosters, does that mean that I only get dice from it in a fictional situation where aerial speed would be helpful?  Conversely, does it mean that I can't describe my aNIMA as flying *unless* I bring in my rocket-booster relationship?

I told her that as I understood it, the answer to all those questions was "no".  Bringing in a relationship gives you the dice and puts the relationship at risk.  Any narration you add to it about what kind of mecha weapon or add-on it becomes is just color and is not binding.  It's a dream-world, so things flow and change.  You can pretty much fly if you want to fly.  The previously rocket-booster relationship can be a giant plasma rifle this time.  Maybe you want to use that change to express that the nature of your relationship with the person has changed from a more rocket-boostery kind of relationship to a more plasma-rifly kind of relationship.

She seemed actually kind of disappointed by this.  She had been narrating everything, and choosing relationship to use, based on the most restrictive set of assumptions, and got confused when other pilots didn't. (The rest of us didn't tell her what we she could do because we didn't know the assumptions she was playing under.)

She was also unclear about the alien drones.  Are they real, are they only in the dream, are they real-world constructs controlled by dream-world-native entities, does the alien launchpad in the dream world correspond to an alien launchpad in the real world, and if we blew it up in the dream does that cause it to explode for real?

I've never been entirely clear on these things myself to be honest.  The interesting thing is that the details have never really mattered that much in the games I've played: the aliens are bad, you fight them, then you go back to teen angst and romance drama.  I suspect that what has been happening, both in this game and previous BS games, is that different players were harboring conflicting ideas about the relationship between real-world aliens and dream-world aliens, but because the details were never important, those conflicting ideas never made it into the SIS and we never hashed out a shared understanding.

Posts: 2

« Reply #5 on: March 03, 2011, 08:58:04 AM »

Hey Jono,

I don't know the actual rules, but when I play or run Bliss Stage, I do have robot parts be permanently assigned to relationships. So if your little sister is your rocket pack once, she's always your rocket pack. This has the nice side effect of commenting on the relationships: "Okay, so my boyfriend is my shield, and that girl that I make out with sometimes is my laser sword" can be rather revealing. Also, it means that as your relationships break, your robot loses parts that it used to have and rely on. Suddenly you don't have that shield anymore.

That said, you don't have to pick relationships based on fictional justification for what would be useful. You can usually find a way to narrate a weapon or sensor array if you want to, and if you have four different parts currently active in the mission, one solution might not reasonably involve all of them. It starts getting silly to try and find a way to narrate using your rocket pack and your sensor array and your laser sword and your gun. But maybe you used your sensor array on the first mission goal, and now you're stuck with it until the mission ends. I like to think of having all those dice to roll as what you could bring to bear on any given mission goal. So you go into the mission with these different weapons, and the extra dice comes from having the flexibility to approach the goal in those various ways, even if you only end up using one or two parts.

If you're really set on tying the parts to the narration, it can be fun to use color-coded fudge dice for each relationship. So when you bring in your jetpack, that's three blue dice, and the laser sword is four red dice, and the shield is four green dice. And then seeing which dice give you pluses will give you an idea of which parts to be using. Your green dice gave you three blanks and a minus? Guess you won't be using your shield much on this goal. And maybe now you're irritated with your boyfriend.

As for the drones, I think that's going to vary by game. To the best of my knowledge, drones are supposed to be real enough that they can cause damage in the real world. That's one reason humanity is having trouble rebuilding, and also it gives you extra impetus to actually fight the aliens. And they need to be real enough that you were able to use their parts to build your initial ANIMa. But for the rest, some should be hashed out in the beginning of the game, and the rest over the course of play. Establishing how the dream world looks, and how it impinges on the real world when things go wrong is a good start to setting expectations. After that, it's usually up to the anchors and the authority figure to set how things happen. In the most recent game I played, some confusion arose because there was an old cannon in the real world, and then someone used it as a weapon in the dream world, including moving it across campus. We decided that for this game, the real cannon would be unmoved, and the dream cannon would just reset to where the real cannon was every time someone went into the dream. In this session, the real world and dream world were connected, and the real world was stronger. But in another game, we might have decided that the real world cannon also moved, or that the two cannons didn't affect each other at all. In a game I ran in Seattle, someone traveled through the dream world and ended up physically moving to the other side of the lake. it varies. When I run BS, I usually let the group guide these decisions, but as authority figure, I get the final say, unless it's part of someone resolving a hope. 
Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Posts: 17707

« Reply #6 on: March 03, 2011, 09:33:28 AM »


My Bliss Stage handout might be useful, or I hope it will anyway. It's part of my ongoing science-fiction RPG handout project.

In our game, we also treated a given relationship's bot-part as fixed, partly as a feature of the character's visual identity. However, any given part's utility could be expanded or adapted in any way; a jet-driven wing array might be used as an attack or defense at any point, for instance, as well as or in place of movement.

Best, Ron

Posts: 16

« Reply #7 on: March 04, 2011, 02:53:23 PM »

Thanks Ron, that is a handy hand-out.

(I'm chuckling a bit at your description of "emo-bots" and "japanime" - it seems like an emblem of the generation gap in SF and comics fandom.  I'm right on the generational cusp myself - people older than me still see the Japanese stuff as this weird foreign thing, while people younger than me tend to be way more familiar with manga than with American comics.  Anyway, that's a blog post for another time.)

A couple more things I recall from this session that were interesting:

1. I had sex with my pilot (offscreen) in one of my interlude scenes, and it *didn't* take us up to Intimacy 5.  Because the scene judge thought (and I agreed) that our interaction was more of a trust-building thing.  Because we opened up to each other about our emotions and vulnerability and stuff.  I like that the game gives us the opportunity to make these kind of subtle distinctions, to role-play them, to judge the role-playing of them, and to make them relevant to the missions.

2. Our hopes resolution was a little lackluster.  The pilot who resolved "do we wake the sleepers" was like "Oh yeah, we totally wake the sleepers".  I added a detail or two about how we spotted adults staggering around in the overgrown streets dazed and confused, rubbing the sleep out of their eyes and looking for something to eat, but that was just color.  We didn't have any great revelations or tearful reunions or any of that stuff when the sleepers woke up, I guess because none of the sleeping people had ever been a focus in our session.  We were much more interested (especially the pilot players) in exploring the fates of the blissed-out pilots themselves than exploring the resolution of the hopes.
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