Actual Play – Bluebeard’s Bride (6/16/2016)

Bluebeard's Bride logoGM: Sarah “Doombringer” Richardson
Players: Jon Cole, Lisa D, Karen Twelves, and Sean Nittner
System: Bluebeard’s Bride

Yes. First game of Origins! We already had such a great time seeing friends, socializing in the Big Bar, exploring Columbus, and being part of Games on Demand, that it seemed like actually gaming wouldn’t even be necessary to have a great con. But we did, and it was AMAZING!

Bluebeard’s Bride


You are a new bride and your husband has left you alone in your new home while he attends to urgent business. He has given you keys to all of the mansion’s many rooms, but warns you never to venture into his private chamber. Can you resist the seductive and dreadful mystery that lies behind the keyhole?

Bluebeard’s Bride is a mature table-top horror RPG for 2-5 players and one Groundskeeper (GM), Powered by the Apocalypse and based on the original fairy tale, Bluebeard. The game is designed for one-shot sessions of approximately 3-4 hours long, during which players take on the roles of different aspects of the Bride’s psyche, such as the Virgin, the Witch, the Mother, the Fatale, and others, working together (and apart) to guide the Bride’s actions. Each game of Bluebeard’s Bride will lead to different horrors, secrets, and whispering ghosts.

In this haunted house RPG, the players navigate the mansion through the shared actions of the Bride, going room to room to collect evidence for or against Bluebeard’s wicked intentions. Perhaps the Bride is trying to find a way out of the front gate, or a way into Bluebeard’s heart, but always she is drawn towards the only room which her husband has forbidden her to enter, and that will surely be her doom. Her new home tests her sanity, and not every part of her will survive.

Bluebeard’s Bride is dark, erotic, ethereal, and filled with creeping terror. Written and designed by Whitney “Strix” Beltràn, Marissa Kelly, & Sarah Richardson, the game is about the intricacies of feminine horror, and agency in the face of powerlessness. This game is not recommended for children or the faint at heart.

Our Experience

Bluebeard's KeysWas dark. Very dark. My expectation from hearing the fairy tale before the game (which Sarah delivered wonderfully) that we would spend most of the game in a spooky but benign mansion, only to have the horror revealed at the end. The horror, however, was present from the moment game play started.

The game drives, very hard, and very directly at violence against women, and all the ways that it plays out. As the bride we were abused, but we were also shamed, and told we were liars when we tried to reveal the truth. When we tried to make things better we were hurt even more. We were violated over, and over, and as parts of our psyche (all the players play different parts of the bride’s mind) were shattered, we started becoming complicit in our own horror.

Eventually we were always reduced to two choices. Either blame ourselves for the horrors and believe that Bluebeard violence against was a misunderstood act of love, or we blamed Bluebeard for his actions (and those of his servants) and were punished for it.

The game is decidedly about these things and as such provoked a lot of discussion at the table, afterward between Karen and me, and in my own head reflecting back on it. The game is disturbing and powerful.

What Rocked

Sarah is extremely good at horror, I suspect even more so at feminine horror specifically. She wove all of our hopes and dreams about Bluebeard into the stuff of nightmares. She just kept giving us more and more rope to hang ourselves with. Here reincorporation was amazing!

As mentioned, the game delivers a very powerful experience. As I personally don’t have a lot of stomach for horror, it was not a game I’d play again, but I’m very glad I played it this time.

Since the game touched lots of uncomfortable places, we each had our own x-cards, and when one was used, we we’re all very respectful, and moved on as we should. I’m glad it was there and that it was used well.

Traum and sisters shattering was really intense. My aspect “The Virgin” was shattered during the game, and I just made everything that much worse after that. Very much like the Swamp Ghosts of Carolina Death Crawl.

Mechanically, it is very powerful to see that all of the “moves” which you think might offer you agency in a scene, really just control the ways in which the horror manifests. If you turn to violence, the horror does as well. If you plea for help, the horror blames you for your weakness. There are many choices, just no good ones!

What could have improved

I think there is a difficult challenge, mechanically in having multiple players control a single character. The ring mechanic (a ring is passed around) is a good tangible way of knowing who was in charge at the moment, but there was still some confusion among the players and some awkward moments.

As I mentioned in the beginning I wasn’t expecting the overt horror to start so quickly (based on the pacing of the fairy tale) but I think this may have been isolated to our game. I spoke with another player who played in a session later on in the con who said that there game wasn’t as intense as early on as ours. This is one of those games where you really want to set expectations early on!

Actual Play – Ashes of Innocence (2/19/2012)

GM: Todd Furler
Players: Sean, Donnamarie, Rian, Carly, Ishtar, Tom,  Adrian Anderson
System: Unknown Armies

This was a messed up horror game. I wouldn’t say that most of Todd’s Unknown Armies are really “horror”, I’d call them suspenseful or thrillers, but not horror. Todd describes them as episodes of the Twilight Zone, were normal people experience something where reality suddenly takes a sharp left turn.

Well, some episodes of the Twilight Zone are apparently more disturbing than others…

I played Lauren Markowitz, a teenage girl with all the normal kinds of issues surrounding a 15 year old whose mom just remarried after a divorce to a man with two kids of his own. Actually, I’d say that of ALL the characters, my horrors were the most mundane, but they were still awful. Deliciously awful.

Todd had some very interesting perspective on family relationships. He noted a few things in the very beginning, as he was actively trying to get players to walk away from the game if any of this upset them.

  1. When we encounter something we don’t like, we can either try to change it, deal with it, or leave. In a family change is often impossible and leaving isn’t an option, meaning we were going to spend most of the game (and we did) just dealing with problems that were never going to be solved.
  2. Unknown Armies has a rule for how your characters become inured to the terrors they experience. In a nutshell, when you encounter something that freaks you out, if you manage to keep your calm, you start becoming “hardened” to that kind of experience (e.g. violence or helplessness). If you fail to keep your wits, you starts cracking along the edges. One of Todd’s rules in this is that you never get “hardened” to family issues.  So, if we experienced “helplessness”, like having to sit at the table eating dinner when the other kids go to go have their damn tea parties (“So unfair!!!”), even if we made the roll (which I was very happy I didn’t) we don’t get hardened to that kind of horror. It will piss us off just as much the next time it comes up!

Thoughts on the game

Carly, the young woman playing my character’s mother had it rough! First off, Todd had all sorts of hell for her to deal with and then I just added more to it. I mean heaping tablespoons of teenage angst and rebellion. I commend her for a) staying in character and b) not feeling too picked on. It wasn’t personal, she was just the one to bear the burden.

Todd had two characters with special rule about how they could interact. Because of this I wasn’t able to interact with them at all during the game, my character didn’t even know of their existence. Everyone once in a while I would do something that was relayed to them, but from my perspective they didn’t exist. I think this played out well in our game and it makes me wonder if this would be a good way to handle Upstairs/Downstairs games like a riff of of Downton Abbey, where some characters are simply unaware of others. Hmm.

There was one point were Todd was getting pretty close to pushing one of my buttons regarding violence against children. I think if it was another GM I would have probably call to cut the scene. In this case Todd asked us to trust him in advance and I did, and it worked out just fine. Yay, trust exercises!

I really, really dislike DundraCon’s proliferation of nicknames. I blame the system here. When you reg there is a line for your nickname. Most people want to fill out most lines on forms. We’re programmed to complete that kind of stuff. I takes tremendous willpower to leave that line blank. But if you don’t, if you enter anything in that line, it goes with you through the whole con. So, in this case “2 Shotgun Kid” was about 20 minutes late for the game. I’m sure he had reasons, but nobody had any idea who he was or how to get a hold of him. And because that was his name on his badge, that’s all I remember as well. Todd got everyone’s actual names for his personal logs, but I couldn’t remember them.  Not. A. Fan.

Max Rocks. Just saying.


Actual Play – Never Ever? (12/12/2010)

GM: Sean Nittner
Sacrifices: Felipe Morales, Eric Zimmerman, Karen Twelves, Matthew Grau, Mike Muldoon, Travis Smalley
System: Dresden Files

This was my first time running a horror game. Had it not been the Dead of Winter Horror Invitational, it probably would have never happened. I like lots of horror elements; powerlessness, uncertainty, transgression, etc. Typically however, I weave them into games when dramatically appropriate. Can I hurt you when your wife leaves you? Yes. Can I hurt you even more when you find out she is pregnant and you’ll never see the child? What if you don’t know who the father really is? Hell yes. But is that horror? Not really. Horror tropes, but not the whole package, that is what I’ve done so far.

This break out is quite long so for the sanity of the casual reader, here’s my LJ-cut

Actual Play – Rescuing the Royal Robin (3/1/2009)

Sunday morning we woke at Justin’s casa and had a nice breakfast of pancakes, fruit, and yogurt. For the morning slot Justin was running his horror games “Ribbons” which I had already played at DDC and Josh ran his Swamp Call of Cthulhu game. A few posts back I mentioned that I was in every game this weekend, and this is where it comes through on a technicality. I didn’t play in Ribbons, but I already had at the con, so as far as I’m concerned I scored.

The game was using a free system (that I can’t remember the name of right now) which seemed to be a mash up of Fate and Star Wars Saga Edition. The setting that came with the game as a 1920 costal town, but for his game Josh used present day Louisiana. Hurricane Igor had just hit and on its tail was Hurricane Justinian (a plug to the birthday boy I’m sure). A cruise boat, the Royal Robin was on the Mississippi during the hurricane and several hours ago all contact was lost. Our characters were sent out by the coast guard on a rescue mission to find the Robin and call in reinforcements when we located it. Because of Josh’s experience as a Coasty himself, the story came off as very reasonable. We were a rag tag group with a single Coast Guard, a red cross aid worker, a businessman with family on the boat and a renowned reporter who wanted to do a piece on Coast Guard responsiveness and was willing to do lend a hand in the mission in order to go on board. At least that is who we thought we were… and what is what we thought we were doing. Just in case Josh runs this again, I’ll remind readers that this wasn’t called a Cthulhu game for nothing.

What rocked

The system worked very well for what we were trying to do. A mixture of skill challenges, whose outcome meant either navigating an obstacle safely and efficiently or getting held up and the next Hurricane closing in. This was represented by a series of skill checks. Failure meant we eventually moved on but gained a “Hurricane” token, which later would be used as fate chips to compel us in all manner of horrible ways.

Josh’s experience as a Coasty clearly came through in this game. He put us up against some real life difficulties, like what you do when you can pack all the supplies you need on the little boat you’ve got. Or what happens when you get bit by a water moccasin. His depictions of the storm and the aftermath were great. Cows in trees, buildings who’s 2nd floor was untouched but was reduced to its support beams (and nothing else) on the 1st floor, and industrial tanks spilling oil throughout the swamp were all part of his lush descriptions.

Sanity decks. I’m not sure if he made them in cooperation with Justin or in response to his decks, but Josh made us all decks that we flipped every time we took enough sanity loss. They usually started off as a passion that would drive someone and ended in total depravity and/or madness. These decks really rocked.

Killer closing scenes. We each got our own ending signifying the completion of our personal journey and also offering a glimpse into the mad future the world would face. I’m not sure if Josh had these planned out or not, but they were very intense and really brought closure to the game.

What could have been improved

Were I to run this game I’d probably use fate without a stress track (only consequences). The reason being that d20s are just too wild. Arguably we had some pretty decent control of the rolls when invoking our aspects (treat the die like it was a 20 on a trained skill) when we didn’t use our aspects, the curve was (as in all d20 games) too unpredictable for my taste. Also, our characters didn’t take points of damage or loose sanity points, but Josh was doing some math behind the scenes to figure out when we should be flipping sanity cards or taking consequences. I don’t think any of that math added to the game and in several cases slowed things down.

The skill set in the game was bordering on overload. We had nearly a full page of skills but in the end only used a few of them. Another case when I think using the Fate system would probably improve it. I’d just take the character’s main skills and put them on a pyramid. Everything else is unimportant.

And thus concluded The Boy, The Bad, and The Ugly. Thanks mrboy for being born and celebrating it once a year and thanks to everyone else who came, I had a blast.

Dundracon 2009 – Part 3

It’s Friday now, so the details are getting fuzzy. That most likely means my recount will be less detailed. Woot for brevity.

Early Morning-ish Sunday 2/15

Apparently I snored last night and forgot to tell people to smack me with a pillow if I snore. The solution is simple, I roll on my side, I don’t snore. Going to sleep that late two nights in row though meant total collapse and thus the snoring.

Justin, Josh and I got up, showered, got dressed and shot the shit. While urinating Justin introduced me to cute, humorous and very true tune: “No matter how much you shake and dance, the last two drops always go in the pants.”

My better half took the my toiletries kit home with her on accident so I had to get the necessities from the hotel. Some are in the room, but a toothbrush I had to order. This blew me away: They now come packaged with the toothpaste on it. It was hard, crusty and had to be broken up before I could really brush my teeth. I felt like I was brushing with one of those hard candies that crumbles in your mouth. Weird.

We got up, out of the hotel and ready for breakfast as the crack of noon. Luckily the Bagel Street Café was still serving Eggwich Bagel things, which were quite yummy. This is a solid staple of my DDC trips. The food is reasonably priced, tasty, fast, and reasonably healthy. It beats out the con cuisine in virtually every category except availability. That and Baja Fresh, they have great fish tacos!

2:00 PM Sunday 2/15

Zombie Cinema! Justin had purchased as small RPG called Zombie Cinema, where the players get together, pitch a zombie movie and then play it out. The game is simple and elegant in design. It’s got two components that I really like all bundled into a single tool. Unfortunately I don’t know what the tool is so I’ll just call it the “board” that the zombie horde and protagonists move around on. First the board sets the pacing of the game, we know how bad things will be based on the position of the zombie horde and the relative position of the protagonists. Second the board forces to you to frame the kind of scenes we’d see in zombie movies, the conflict (at least until someone dies or escapes) must be between the protagonists, and not involve the zombies in any material way. The game costs $20 and I should have picked up a copy at the Dealers room, it’s really a hoot.

Our premise. You know how a few years ago Con Quest created “Cruise Con”? And you notice that it doesn’t exist anymore? One might think that it was just a failed financial venture but we really knew that because of low attendance, the con rented out the cabin rooms to a government agency transporting irradiated KFC chicken, which caused zombification in all those who ate it. The entire cruise ship, like the Titanic, was doom. And we told that story. And it rocked. Hard. Harder than a lamellar leather breastplate!

After the game we helped Justin pack up and get ready for his 6PM event. Ribbons!

708 Ribbons (A Good Omens Production)

Sunday 6 PM in Room 378 for 6 hours
GM: Justin Evans
System: FATE
Players: 6
Provided: All characters provided by GM
Rules Knowledge: Beginners Welcome
Game Content: Mature Themes

You’re good at your job. You can tell there are patterns to the way the blood sprayed. Where there’s a pattern there’s usually a meaning. You’ve seen the victim, you’re not sure you want to know what this means. But, if you don’t dig deeper and figure it out there will almost certainly be more patterns to study. Mature Themes. A Good Omens Production.

This is where I really wish that I had written this review earlier. Of course if I did I’d probably include spoilers in this post and that would suck because Justin is running the game again. So here are the highlights that I don’t think will spoil anything:

  • Sanity decks, Justin mated the Cthuhlu sanity loss with Fate aspects and a vile child was born. Delicious aspects describing your character falling deeper and deeper.
  • An intro scene. To get this party started, Justin gave us all mini character sheets to play the rolls of characters who we would not be playing in the main game. We basically played out an opening montage. This gave us a chance to get use to the system without putting our own characters on the line.
  • Backstory + Aspects = Awesome. Won’t say more (otherwise it would be a spoiler) but it work out really well. Good character drama out of this.
  • Justin too the “Gumshoe” investigation mechanic and turned it into a stunt for each character, guaranteeing that they would succeed in the areas they needed to. Very sharp!
  • A quagmire of a story with a simple thread to follow in the middle. Justin overwhelmed us with detail but kept the scenes focused, ensuring that we (as players) didn’t become so overwhelmed that we forgot what we needed to do.
  • Psychological horror. Justin is good a that. It’s kind of creepy.
  • Prop-gasm. I’m pretty sure Justin had over 30 props for the game. Some of them were as simple as a pen, others were elaborately crafted and full of detail. They not only added to the ambiance of the game but also helped us stay on track. We could hold something as a reminder of what we needed to do.

So yeah… that is just what I remember five days later without revealing any of the secrets, just think how much fun it would be to actually play the game…. And if you’re going to KublaCon you can. Look for it in the roster.

1:00 AM Monday 2/16

After the game we collected all of the props and headed back up to the room, joined by Josh who had finished his game as well. After some shit talking we decided to get drunk and then record a podcast… our 21st podcast in fact. I think I’ll title it “We’re legal now”. It was a long show and possibly only funny to the three of us… and possibly only so when drunk. Not sure yet, I haven’t edited it.

4:00 AM Monday 2/16


10:00 AM Monday 2/16

Justin and Josh took off and I was waiting around for my ride. Luckily I ran into Rich and Cil and we hung out for a few hours talking about the con, and decompressing. Good times.

2:00 PM Monday 2/16

Erik picked me up, we drove home and got to share our con experiences. Good times all round.