Monday, November 19, 2007

Playtest: Bliss Stage Part 2/3

So we just wrapped up the 3rd game in our Bliss Stage campaign. I know I never blogged about our second game, but I'm here now aren't I... Next week we're going to play a little bit of a fourth game, but we could probably keep playing for at least another 3-6 sessions if we let it. This game is awesome.

There are definitely some hiccups with the game, and perhaps I should detail them before going into how awesome it is. The structure of the game is such that as the GM I feel that I am very powerless to effect a story. I have almost no control over the mission actions, other than to state their goal in the voice of a character, and I have even less control over interlude actions other than to specify who is in them. I have more control as a player of the authority figure / secondary characters than I do as the GM. I don't really have a problem with taking away the GM's power, quite the contrary, I enjoy even GM-less games like Polaris and Shock. But this in between state where I have to decided what interlude actions exist, and what the missions goals are makes it very difficult to craft some kind of story (like the players want) without stepping on their toes by giving motivations to characters or by taking little bits of narration over from the anchor in the mission actions.

The other big problem with Bliss Stage, I think, is the big dichotomy between mission actions and interlude actions. Interlude actions are where the meat of the story lies. Its where all the betrayal happens, where the trust building happens, where the gritty life of the characters occur. After 3 sessions of play, I can definitely say that it seems like the interlude is what we want to be playing, and the mission actions exist just to give us a break and to effect our characters mechanics. They are necessary to propel change and strife in the relationships, but are not the meat of the story. Consequently, they lack a certain earnestness on the part of the players. To counterbalance that effect, I try to provide the characters with meaningful goals that are personal and character related (or I try to do that by adding nightmare elements to the scene, galvanizing the character). See above for why that is difficult to do.

So, now that I've mention the two difficult things about Bliss Stage, I should definitely talk about the awesome things about Bliss Stage. The greatest thing about Bliss Stage is that there is nothing to do but develop relationships. Its like the designer removed from the entire universe everything that wasn't either developing or destroying a relationship. Indeed except for 2 things (trauma and bliss) there are no stats other than relationships. That combined with the fact that ever interlude action has to have a mechanical effect of some sort, means that every time characters are interacting they are effecting a relationship.

Because of this, you can effect some significant change in relationships. In the last session we saw:

  1. An abusive father apologize to his daughter, and a new, changed, interaction between the two arise.
  2. A devoted lover enter into an affair while the other side was reaffirming their relationship by rejecting another suitor
  3. A brand new relationship gain intimacy up to and including sex.
  4. Two old lovers rekindle their relationship in a completely new and different way.

Maybe I'm not playing the right kind of games, but those kind of actions are a once a campaign style of thing, not all in one session. This compression of development is incredible and really gives you a feeling of anticipation as you wait with baited breath for the next shoe to drop.

The most amazing part to me is that despite all the character development emphasis, everyone in my group has seemed to enjoy the game. This includes people whom I wouldn't have predicted enjoying a purely relationship focused game. If that particular feat is repeatable, then Bliss Stage will have achieved something truly remarkable.


Anonymous said...

I have to agree that Bliss Stage is all about interludes. Combat serves as a mechanic to force the players to have more interludes (since interludes allow you to heal damage sustained in combat).

This even affected the way we played the game as it progressed. In the first game a lot of time was devoted to missions, with stunting, nightmare elements galore, waving tentacles and Lake Washington on fire, the works.

The third game was spent primarily in interludes, with one small mission with limited stunting. I felt the attitude was "Let's get this thing over with so we can get back to interludes".

- nikita

Ben said...

Yeah, though I was experimenting with some different mission formats that game. In particular, both missions were single pilot missions, with very different goals "Train an Anchor" and "Wake a Sleeper".

I'd like to say the right balance is somewhere in the middle, but I really don't know yet, and I think the answer probably varies quite a bit group-to-group.