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Title: [Bliss Stage playtest] on the edge of oblivion
Post by: Emily Care on November 06, 2005, 01:56:02 PM
Hey there,

I did a playtest session of Bliss Stage last night with my intrepid housemate & co-conspirator, Phoebe.  To introduce the game, we played out what would likely be one of the last missions of the teen pilot of a giant robot.  The desparate team of youngsters in this game pilot the images of robots in a dream-dimension surrounding a decimated earth where all adults but some tortured few have succumbed to the Bliss, a spirit- and consciousness-sapping state induced by the aliens.  Humans in this state a preserved to feed the alien invaders, and the children of the earth are waging a final battle to save humanity. 

I made up the characters on my own in a different session, so I'll start with my notes about that:


Pilots

Kim  male, black, moody   
Age: 14
Bliss: 0
Relationships:
w/Violet (anchor) Intimacy/Trust=3/4
w/Penny 1/2
w/Jim 1/2

Brian male, white, leader, confident
Age: 16
Bliss: 55
Relationships:
w/Brittany (anchor) 5/4
w/Karen 2/2
w/Sam 2/2

Sam female, white, reckless
Age: 18
Bliss: 85
Relationships:
w/Sara (anchor) 5/4
w/Karen 3/2
w/Brian 3/2

Chris female, asian, shy
Age: 15
Bliss: 25
Relationships:
w/Thom (anchor) 4/4
w/Mark 2/2
w/Jim 1/2

Anchors: (from the sample list)
Violet (Kim's) female, forgiving
Brittany (Brian's) female, cautious
Sara (Sam's) female, kind
Thom (Chris') male, cute

Other characters:
Jim, 22, adult survivor, former basketball coach, cheerleader type
Karen, 54, adult survivor, Biogen researcher/professor, hard-bitten & manipulative
Penny, 8 yr old, female, cute & silly
Mark, 43, male, lame leg, former janitor, despairing & bitter

I've got to say, I really enjoyed making the characters.  It may be partly because I'm fairly familiar with the genre conventions, but making the "team" was easy & the positions of the characters with relationship to one another gave me a good framework to create characters within.  I found myself thinking about the types of reactions one could have to the kind of hopeless situation the world is in in Bliss Stage, so the supporting cast got to express these view points.

One thing I noticed is that a pool of 5 points split among 3 relationships doesn't leave very much.  My younger characters ended up having relats with people that were not differentiated very much from those they had no specific connection to.  Also, when I quickly got ideas in mind for what kinds of stress would exist in the characters relationships & so it was wierd to square that with putting high numbers of intimacy in a relationship that I wanted to be contested.  For example,  Karen is the main adult, smart, organized & ruthless, so I figured that she would be one who really pushes the kids.  I saw Brian & Sam having important relationships with her, though Brians would be antagonistic & Sams would be more mentorly.  I tried not to get hung up on how the #'s work with that, but I was wondering if I "should" try to sim that, ie give Brian a low trust with Karen, and Sam a high score. Or should I instead only look at relationships that start out close & caring & give them high numbers that will get torn down.  Then, should we think in terms of the other random characters as having negative connections if it is low?  My thought is that I should not get caught up in the number indicating closeness & instead think of how important the connection is, in whatever way. 

This is such a cool game for a group of people! I love how each player has a pilot & some one else's anchor you will have lots of interconnecting interactions.  And the way the interludes & relationships called upon in missions will bring everyone into each-others stories.  I really like this system.  It went fine with us winging it with only 2, but clearly it's going to be ideal with 3 or more.  The conflict in the setting crackles.  It's engine is the other people: players & characters.

Setting it in a place you know adds another level of chill.  I imagined my game taking place at UMass Amherst where I work & go to school. It's up to the play group to decide if there are other survivors nearby, right?

Who decides who plays an anchor? It's player or the pilot's?

When I was making the supporting cast & thinking about the general interconnections, it was most interesting to me to want to find problematic interconnections. Is this something that should/could be suggested by the GM? Or do you think that since the mechanics will introduce conflict asap, it's not necessary? Is thinking that way just pre-play?  If it is, you might want to assure people they don't have to build it in, or address it if it's an issue.  It worked well for us though.

What happens if Intimacy is 0? Did I miss that?

I made a big huge chart of all the characters so I could keep track of their I/T scores, but never used it after char gen.  I really liked having little wheels with the pilot at the center that showed their relationships & I/T levels.  I think I originally meant to make a relationship map, but just ended up with these little diagrams. I liked 'em. They helped me describe the relationships to Phoebe when we did the playtest too.


Speaking of the Playtest.......

I had Phoebe read through the rules (she's great, she does it & she remembers them.).  So she could get a sense of the game, & then I described the characters I'd made up.  I was a little worried that she would not feel very invested since I'd made them without her, but it conserved a lot of energy to not do both in an evening, and she found them engaging & the relationships understandable, so it was all okay. Having them written out helped too.  We then read through the scene rules & figured out what we were going to do. We decided to run 1 briefing scene, 1 mission scene, and interludes as appropriate.  We picked Sam as the pilot to use since she had the most immediate dramatic potential.

Sam was the oldest pilot. I saw her as the beta in the group, often running afoul & competing with Brian, the alpha.  We both saw her recklessness as a response to the high level of Bliss she was at (85) & the closeness of her inevitable demise (at 108 Bliss).  I had seen her as having a good relationship with Karen, the taskmistress, and Phoebe had the good insight about this: Karen was the only one who could lay the law down with Sam, and that was a source of stability for Sam. 

For each scene, we chatted a bit about what we might like to see happen, then dropped into character to play out some of that. I called scenes done when we'd accomplished what was needed, but not until we'd done something that felt like good conflict or creative exchange. The mission scenes are very well structured, but the others are more free-form, so you may want to include discussion of when/how they end.  Just to be complete, I suppose.

Briefing Scene
I played Karen, giving the pilots their intro into the latest mission needed.  Oh, that's right, we didn't decide until this point who would be the character we focused on.  We had Sam volunteer.  We chatted about what mission would be needed & what the objectives would be, out of character.  I made sure to ask P. what she would like to see & didn't jump in, because that's how I like to do it. It would be just fine for the  GM to make them up, of course.

We came up with the following objectives:
1)  Enter the alien stronghold
2) Observe operations and don't touch anything/get caught*
3) Bring back data or a sample of their "dream machinery" (we projected that the humans had totally the wrong idea of how this worked)

The second objective was worded that way in response to an idea Phoebe had about Sam wanting to rescue or find another pilot, Bettie, an older one who had been the hot-shot pilot when Sam had just joined the resistance.  Bettie had long since been caught in the Bliss, and it was clear that she was an analog for Sam's own fears of her own closeness to it.  So I had Karen give Sam a talking to about how important it was to not think of the indiviual loss, but to focus on the larger battle to save humanity, and so on.  Phoebe's Sam was like, "oh, of course, Karen, I'd never think of that" all while with a glint in her eye.

Mission Scene

We talked about the kids living in UMass, in the abandoned Campus Center.  We talked about the dream world & wondered what it would be like.  I suggested we have it be like the fae realms are sometimes thought--an alter-version of the normal world, but darker or stranger somehow. I described Sam getting into the creche & going to sleep (forgot about the anchor singing to, but remembered later & inserted that retroactively).  Sam fell asleep surrounded by the strange glittering glass & wire of the creche and awoke lying on her back on the lawn by the campus pond, near the library, with the sun shining bright and strong down on her.  Phoebe suggested the library would be where the alien stronghold was--books being a portal into other dreamlike worlds--and sent Sam in to investigate. The library was surrounded by streaming, feathery colored wisps that circled it and teetered crazily like a Dr. Seuss structure around it.  When she went to go in, we did our first roll.


Okay, now, I had us using the dice like the fabled "fortune at the beginning" (yes, I know it doesn't really exist, but humor me).  She chose the relats to bring in, rolled the dice & then we figured out what happened in the scene based on that.  We framed the scene prior to the roll, but not the conflict. The conflict was entirely determined by the rolls. This seemed to work great. The only wierd part was describing how the dice worked--I didn't go into it until we hit this part of the game, & Phoebe was unsure of what they'd be used for until she actually started assigning them, but we got the connection between extra dice and Bliss, so she was able to take that into account & once she rolled once, she got it & it was just fine.

She rolled 4 times for the Mission scene.  Several times we segueyed the resolution of the scene into the framing of the next one.

Roll 1: (8 dice)
Mission: 6
Nightmare: 3
Karen (relats): 5
Brian: 6
Bliss: 2
Terror: 1

The relationships with Karen & Brian were "put on the block" as Phoebe referred to it. so she had 8 dice to roll. : ) So Sam, gets in scot-free, happily disguised as a giant robot of the type (oval body with several Doc Oc type tentacles) we'd said the aliens send out as probes. She entered through the front door to see aliens, colorful clouds of light floating through the ante-room, along with robots moving around. Objective one accomplished! Nothing bad happens to her relationship with Brian or Karen. 

To narrate the moderate failure she got in Nightmare, I asked Phoebe to tell me what she found frightening in dreams.  She thought about it and said "loss of control, of your limbs, etc".  From this, I think she suggested that the disguise seemed to be flashing off, that she was in her own person-body in the dream.  Couldn't affect the mission, though, so I said it was just her perceptions getting wierd, though she did see some frightening and dangerous looking robots with viciously clawed tentacles nearby. I didn't feel I'd  narrated successfully until I saw an expression of horror on Phoebe's face. 

Roll 2: (8 dice again)
Mission: 3
Nightmare: 5
Karen: 3 (stress 1)
Brian: 5
Bliss:2
Terror: 0

Phoebe had Sam go into the elevator to seek out more info for her mission.  I had the elevator go down into a huge cavernous chamber.  We figured this was where the sleeping humans were. I asked her what she thought they looked like and she described layers of cocooned humans, half-way between a butterfly's coccoon and a spider's web-wrapped fly.  I narrated the aliens enveloping the human bundles in their glimmering light and pulsing, I said she could hear a strange hum in the room.  Phoebe said this was a sort of purring noise the aliens made as they devoured the dreams of the captured humans and we both shuddered.  (This was just free-lance horror, she hadn't made the roll yet & wasn't looking for the dream to be nightmarish.)

With the roll, Phoebe put her a low die into the mission.  Clearly she would look for Bettie & defy Karen's orders.  It was at this point that I realized that we needed to account for the anchor more. I'd forgotten about Sara.  I suggested that she could see everything that Sam could & we started talking about their interactions. The setback to the mission was just that she was too distracted by her search to look for anything useful about the alien "technology".  But no question that defying Karen would put stress in their relats.

Roll 3 (5 dice)
Mission: 1,1 (threatened)
Nightmare: 5
Sarah: 6
Bliss: 1
Terror: 0

This time, I threatened the Mission category.   When does/should the GM do this? Any old time? We kind of looked at it as half a good thing, since it cut down on the Bliss she'd get, but it is of course, the suck. Some good guidelines about this would be great. Phoebe looked at her roll (sorry I didn't record the thrown out dice, they were all bad), realized that if she wanted to avoid putting low dice in most of her categories she should put 2 low ones in the threatened category.  It wa a bad roll, she put 2 1's in.  The Aliens saw her!  Sara tells her to get out and the colored light aliens all start coming towards her & encircle her. She gave up an accomplishment by having been seen in the stronghold, the  implict part of that was to be undetected.

Roll 4: (5 dice)
Mission: 5
Nightmare: 3
Sara: 4 (stress 1)
Bliss: 2
Terror: 2

The aliens come closer & come in contact with her.  They envelop her & connect to every cell in her body.  Sam is overwhelmed with sensation & terror: she suddenly sees lights and images from each point of contact, her big toe is seeing through the alien's eyes.  But she realizes that that the aliens are trying to communcate with her/that this is how they do it.  Phoebe remarked that this would certainly increase her terror while also accomplishing an objective. We thought that she might blame Sara for not pulling her out sooner, as the way that relationship was stressed. We figured we'd follow that up in an interlude.

We pretty much had no problem figuring out how scenes resolve, but you will likely want to talk more about that than what you've got now.  Phoebe suggested giving examples. 

Interlude Scenes

We did three scenes: Stress relief with Sara, Stress relief with Karen and Trust building with Brian. In the scene with Sara, Sam goes off on Sara for letting her stay in & get more Bliss.  We played out their argument which ended with Sam apologizing & them having sex--they are at intimacy level 5. (fade to black) In the scene with Karen, K. bawls Sam out for disobeying her orders & Sam meekly "yes ma'am's" her.  In the scene with Brian, he asks her how the mission went & what went wrong.  Sam is snippy, but then tells him & opens up about her fears about passing into Bliss Stage.  He tells her not to go out again, let the younger kids try & Sam is dismissive about their ability to do so.  It felt like a good set up for a new turn, but it was late, so we ended there.

Questions about Scenes:
Do you have to involve a character whose relationship has been called upon in that scene? Or is it okay to leave it to the interlude?

How many objectives should there be? Does it matter? Is it any particular person's job to decide them? Is it too much pre-play to talk about them?

Is there a "right way" for the  pilot to interact with the character of the anchor or is that up to the individual play group? Our play was lacking the scene framing shifts you'd usually see since there was only two of us.

Do you volunteer for missions from lowest to highest or the reverse? It's not clear.

Phoebe commented that the giant robot is a good metaphor for issues of adolescence: powerful body you can't control, transition to new form/roles in society etc.

Robots were a theme, but not a huge issue in our play. Will the enjoinder that it's easiest to take that form be enough to keep it as a running image? Does it matter?

The relationships didn't get stress as fast as we imagined.  We weren't close to getting trauma.  Should that be different?

It felt to me like it's important for the nightmare stuff to be scary to the player of the pilot. 


All in all, it was great.  Hope this is helpful & I look forward to seeing more develop.

best,
Em





Title: Re: [Bliss Stage playtest] on the edge of oblivion
Post by: Ben Lehman on November 06, 2005, 06:21:52 PM
Yay!  Thanks a lot for the playtest.

First I'm going to answer all your questions, then some general comments.

Quote
Setting it in a place you know adds another level of chill.  I imagined my game taking place at UMass Amherst where I work & go to school. It's up to the play group to decide if there are other survivors nearby, right?

Yes.  Everything about the setting except the basic details and restrictions is up the group.

Quote
Who decides who plays an anchor? It's player or the pilot's?

I don't think I specified this.  To be quite specific:  The same player always plays the same anchor (they "own" the character).  How you distribute them doesn't bother me, as long as one person plays one anchor.

Quote
When I was making the supporting cast & thinking about the general interconnections, it was most interesting to me to want to find problematic interconnections. Is this something that should/could be suggested by the GM? Or do you think that since the mechanics will introduce conflict asap, it's not necessary? Is thinking that way just pre-play?  If it is, you might want to assure people they don't have to build it in, or address it if it's an issue.  It worked well for us though.

That's fine, although I would prefer to let it come out during play in my own play.  Problematic interconnections are great (consider, for instance, a fist-fight as a stress relief scene.)

Quote
What happens if Intimacy is 0? Did I miss that?

Isn't it true that intimacy only ever goes up?  If it isn't, Intimacy 0 would just give you no dice to roll.

Quote
Do you have to involve a character whose relationship has been called upon in that scene? Or is it okay to leave it to the interlude?

No!  In fact, I see the main mission scene color for relationship damage being damage to the robot which is only reflected later on in damage to the relationships.  I don't want you to bring in relationships in terms of actual human content except the Anchor/Pilot relationship.  This really needs to be added more clearly into the rules.

Quote
(regarding Trauma and Threatening) When does/should the GM do this? Any old time? We kind of looked at it as half a good thing, since it cut down on the Bliss she'd get, but it is of course, the suck.

The GM should constantly be doing this to the fullest extent allowed by the rules.  No wonder your relationships didn't take much damage!

And yes, it is very much the suck.

Quote
How many objectives should there be? Does it matter? Is it any particular person's job to decide them? Is it too much pre-play to talk about them?

I don't know, that's why we're playtesting.  Yes.  The GM's.  Not at all, that's exactly what a briefing scene is for.

Quote
Is there a "right way" for the  pilot to interact with the character of the anchor or is that up to the individual play group? Our play was lacking the scene framing shifts you'd usually see since there was only two of us.

In terms of the imagined space, I picture the Pilot and Anchor in voice contact with each other over the radio, with the Anchor playing "command and control" for the pilot.  I should make that more clear in the game.  Is this question in terms of the imagined space?

Quote
Do you volunteer for missions from lowest to highest or the reverse? It's not clear.

Highest to lowest.  In a long-term game, I don't imagine that there will be much volunteering.

Quote
Phoebe commented that the giant robot is a good metaphor for issues of adolescence: powerful body you can't control, transition to new form/roles in society etc.

*whistles*

Quote
Robots were a theme, but not a huge issue in our play. Will the enjoinder that it's easiest to take that form be enough to keep it as a running image? Does it matter?

I think that if the narration of mission scenes is focused mostly on the dream-content and not the relationship content this will be fine.  For instance -- it is totally reasonable to narrate your damage to the relationship with Sarah as "my legs get damaged."  This needs to be more clear in the text.

Quote
The relationships didn't get stress as fast as we imagined.  We weren't close to getting trauma.  Should that be different?

Hmm... I'm not certain.  You weren't using Trauma at all, so that certainly made it a little easier.



Okay, now some general comments:

Thanks a ton!  This is massively useful.  I think that the two player version really does subtract something from the game, because you don't get the GM-Pilot-Anchor trinity as far as scene framing and narration rights and the Nightmare category.  If you do end up playing with Wheeler (in which case -- maybe do the start as a group and just roll in a character you like or two?), I'd be interested to see how that feels different, both with respect to the relationships and to the mission scenes.

I'm beginning to think that I'm not giving enough starting relationships.  Further, I definitely need to give more guidance about the starting numbers, but I don't have enough information to do so from a position of confidence.  Consider this the next time you play.

Excellent call on including races and one personality trait for the Pilots.  Very Evangelion.

Further, the "having your own goals for the mission" thing is awesome, and I want to find some way for that to be useful mechanically.

Thanks so much again!

yrs--
--Ben


Title: Re: [Bliss Stage playtest] on the edge of oblivion
Post by: Blankshield on November 06, 2005, 07:13:18 PM
Indeed, very cool.  Ben, PM me if there's anything specific you want "taken away" from this before Stealth Gamers playtest this on Thursday.

Emily, you mentioned character creation was easy because you're very familiar with the genre conventions: I'm curious what genre you mean.  To me, Bliss Stage, even in the draft version so far, screams anime/manga to me - the stuff that's "a little weird" when it comes out, and is considered a landmark for decades.  Ben's mention of Evangelion cements that for me.  I'm mostly just curious if we're all on the same page here, or if you got something different out of it.

James



Title: Re: [Bliss Stage playtest] on the edge of oblivion
Post by: Ben Lehman on November 06, 2005, 11:23:15 PM
Oh one more thing -- Em, I notice that your dice suddenly go down.  Under the rules that I intended, you can't stop using a relationship on a given mission without putting it at the lowest priority.  Did I miss something?

Indeed, very cool.  Ben, PM me if there's anything specific you want "taken away" from this before Stealth Gamers playtest this on Thursday.

This is in public, where other playtesters can see it.  Hope you don't mind.

Here's what to take away.

The GM should be using all the trauma, all the time.
In terms of narration: Your mecha is made out of relationships.  When you bring in a relationship, describe what it looks like on your mecha (a gun?  A shield?  Funny shoulder spikes?)  This is mandatory.  Damage to relationships is largely rooted in physical damage to the mecha, with emotional damage saved for interlude scenes.
Definitely Evangelion / Brainpowrd / Gundam / Battle Angel / Gasaraki inspired.

yrs--
--Ben


Title: Re: [Bliss Stage playtest] on the edge of oblivion
Post by: Emily Care on November 07, 2005, 06:56:35 AM
Hello,

James: anime is what I meant. Specifically the teenage angst with big robots variety, what Ben listed. So I'm sure we're on the same page. 

Ben:  How does the gm use trauma? I didn't get this. And what are the guidelines for threatening a category?  Is there a limit on how many you can per round? 

Quote
In terms of the imagined space, I picture the Pilot and Anchor in voice contact with each other over the radio, with the Anchor playing "command and control" for the pilot.  I should make that more clear in the game.  Is this question in terms of the imagined space?
Yes, I was asking in terms of the imagined space. And as I noted, not having the anchor there to frame the scene changed things a lot for us. I look forward to hearing how it goes for you, James!


Quote
I'm beginning to think that I'm not giving enough starting relationships.  Further, I definitely need to give more guidance about the starting numbers, but I don't have enough information to do so from a position of confidence.  Consider this the next time you play.
Three seemed like the perfect number of relationships per se, but the number of dice assigned seems like it needs to be more. How do you create new relationships over time? Do you?

And, you can't bail on a relationship after you call it in?  Wow, that would have changed a lot.  Yeah, make that more clear for sure.

best,
Em


Title: Re: [Bliss Stage playtest] on the edge of oblivion
Post by: Ben Lehman on November 07, 2005, 07:40:48 PM
Ben:  How does the gm use trauma? I didn't get this. And what are the guidelines for threatening a category?  Is there a limit on how many you can per round? 

So, let's use an example.  Sam has 3 Trauma.  In the run-up to every scene, you as the GM should be:
1) Threatening three categories
2) Endangering one category
3) Forcing a relationship and threatening one category

Optionally, you can also narrate some reasons for this in the SIS.  (You're gun is overheated!  I'm threatening your relationship with Karen!)

yrs--
--Ben


Title: Re: [Bliss Stage playtest] on the edge of oblivion
Post by: Emily Care on November 08, 2005, 09:21:09 AM
So you can't threaten etc until you have trauma.  Then I did it close to right, I'd have had to wait until the trauma accrued.

--E


Title: Re: [Bliss Stage playtest] on the edge of oblivion
Post by: Ben Lehman on November 08, 2005, 05:24:17 PM
Right!  But note that Sam, as an 18 year old, starts with three trauma.

yrs--
--Ben


Title: Re: [Bliss Stage playtest] on the edge of oblivion
Post by: Ben Lehman on November 09, 2005, 12:02:14 AM
Hmm...

Looking back over the text, this is really unclear.

Here's the deal.

Trauma is an attribute of the pilot's.  It goes up whenever Terror > Trauma, it goes down with Trauma Relief scenes.  Other than that, it stays constant.

For each level of Trauma, the GM must threaten one category per scene.  The GM doesn't "spend" the trauma to do this -- it doesn't go away, it's still there for the next scene.

The GM can forgo threatening three categories to endanger a cateogory instead.

The GM can forgo threatening two categories to force a relationship.

yrs--
--Ben


Title: Re: [Bliss Stage playtest] on the edge of oblivion
Post by: Emily Care on November 09, 2005, 12:50:45 PM
For each level of Trauma, the GM must threaten one category per scene. 

*whistles*  There's the good stuff. I get it now.  Wow.

--E