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

From: http://www.magpiegames.com/bluebeards-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!