Bliss Stage, by Ben Lehman
Over the past couple weeks I’ve been reading Bliss Stage. I really dig the setup/premise (really I’m a sucker for just about anything that’s vaguely post-apocalyptic). The story of the game starts now. Like right now as you’re reading this. Aliens attack and use a weapon that we refer to as bliss basically cause all adults to fall asleep and never wake up.
The game itself starts 7 years from now. There’s a rare few adults that never fell asleep and some have figured out how to make a weapon to take the fight back to the aliens and it can only be used by kids (well, teenagers, really). This is done through the use of a device called an ANIMa that sends a pilot into a dream-like world where they can fight the aliens. In that dream-like world they form what’s basically a mech that they navigate the world with and sometimes fight the aliens while an anchor helps by being their link back to the real world. There’s a bit more, but that’s the gist.
The mechanics of the game pretty much revolve around relationships. Pilots to anchors to everyone else. The strength of various relationships is how a pilot forms their mech while in the ANIMa. You bring in specific relationships as specific things, like a weapon or whatever. It starts to get interesting here because you can bring in more relationships for more dice. The more dice you use the more likely you are to succeed at various things, but that’s also more dice that can turn out badly for you. Specifically, dice are used for various things like the success of the mission, the pilot’s safety, and the safety of the pilot’s relationships. Any dice that don’t get used for those go into adding to a pilot’s Bliss. Bliss is sort of a countdown clock for pilots, when it reaches a certain point (108), then the pilot is done in the game, the player gets the chance to narrate some final bits for that character and the world.
There’s a lot here I like. The premise, like I mentioned. I like the built-in countdowns — there’s Bliss and Trauma that can both take pilots out; once all the pilots are done the game is basically over. The idea of forming dream mechs is pretty cool and I’m not even a huge fan of that genre. I’m a little iffy on all the relationship stuff, but I definitely find it interesting. Aside from missions where pilots form their mechs there are interlude-type scenes where you can build up (or possibly tear down) relationships. A lot of room for drama there since most of the characters are teenagers. I don’t know if I’ll ever get the chance to play or run, but I’m definitely open to it.
Blowback, by Elizabeth Sampat
After Bliss Stage, I re-read Blowback. I read it once before a year or so back, but I never really talked about it. Seems like the perfect opportunity to do so now. First, and most importantly, Blowback is heavily based on the television show Burn Notice, which I’m a huge fan of. Plus a bit of the Bourne series thrown in.
So, the basic idea is that the PCs are spies and they’ve been blacklisted & completely cut off from all their resources. So the game revolves around the spies trying to get by with whatever odd-jobs they can find using their knowledge, training, and most importantly friends & family. And maybe eventually finding out more about why they were blacklisted.
Just reading the game really evokes the feeling of Burn Notice. Doing jobs, helping those in need, straining relationships and friends & family getting caught in the crossfire sometimes.
The game itself is pretty straight-forward. Every PC controls a professional (a spy/agent sort) and a civilian (the regular people, friends, family, whatever). There’s 4 stats to accomplish things: Pavement (has to do with acquiring and using knowledge), Diversion (sabotage, breed mistrust, guerrilla warfare, etc), Provacateur (developing and using assets), & Commando (intimidation, fighting, shooting, etc).
There’s three phases to a session: Analysis, Operation, Blowback. Analysis is all about gathering information, laying the groundwork for the job, & just getting resources in general. Operation is the actual job and making use of the resources gained in Analysis. Last is Blowback, which is about dealing with the baggage from the operation and updating the status of relationships, whether they’re getting stressed or the characters are actively trying to make amends and repair a stressed relationship.
The GM is “The Agency”, which has fairly standard GM duties. Mostly giving the players a chance to be bad-ass spies, provide opportunities to put stress on relationships, and to keep the meta-plot going about the botched job that got the spies blacklisted in the first place.
I haven’t played it yet, but like I said just reading the book really evokes the sort of themes that Burn Notice has. It has me especially amped up at the moment since the newest (and last) season of Burn Notice just started a few weeks ago. I really hope to get to play this sometime for sure.
My rpg pdf reading list continues! At least I’m in the Bs now. Next in the list is Breaking the Ice