We’re incredibly excited to announce that the Bluebeard’s Bride Kickstarter goes live on Tuesday, October 18th!
Bluebeard’s Bride is an investigatory horror tabletop roleplaying game, written and designed by Whitney “Strix” Beltrán, Marissa Kelly, and Sarah Richardson, and based on the Bluebeard fairy tale.
In this game you and your friends explore Bluebeard’s home as the Bride, creating your own beautifully tragic version of the dark fairy tale. Investigate rooms, discover the truth of what happened, experience the nightmarish phantasmagoria of this broken place, and decide whether or not you are a faithful or disloyal bride.
The game is based on the same Powered by the Apocalypse system as Urban Shadows, Epyllion, and Masks, but takes it in new and interesting directions.
In advance of the Kickstarter going live, we thought we’d do a little bit of a retrospective on Bluebeard’s Bride—how it came to be, why its core game design choices are what they are, and what it is now.
The Beginning of the Tale
Bluebeard’s Bride originated at GenCon, 2014, at the Hacking as Women workshop. The structure of the workshop had participants grouping up to come up with game ideas and start basic design work. Whitney, and Sarah were grouped together, and Marissa was their coach. Over the course of that 2-hour workshop, they came up with the concept of Bluebeard’s Bride as a game that would retell the fairytale story of Bluebeard from the Bride’s perspective, creating a frightening tale with an emphasis on feminine horror and investigation.
From that point onward, they were working on the game, iterating and testing and designing and pushing it forward. They had regular meetings, discussing how to change it, and ran it for many different groups, at conventions, at home, and online. And even as they collected suggestions and feedback, they always kept to their core vision of the game—as an investigative horror game, focused on single-session play, that could really make players experience horror. Not just weirdness or the equivalent of jump-scares, but real horror.
They knew from moment one, as well, that Bluebeard’s Bride should always be a beautiful book. Taking inspiration from gothic Victorian and Turkish works, and from movies like Crimson Peak, they’d always had the clear notion that the final book should be itself a work of art, something that would stand out on your bookshelf, something that you could show off and admire. So even while they were working on the game itself, honing it and perfecting its rules, they were also working on the book, finding just the right artists (like Rebecca Yanovskaya), deciding on just the right form factor (a square 8” x 8” book), and otherwise fleshing out what this gorgeous tome would look like.
And after two years of hard work, Bluebeard’s Bride is finally ready to come out of the darkness and into the light.
Playing Through the Shadows
The game of Bluebeard’s Bride has many innovative game mechanics that perfectly cater to its theme. Some came from tons of testing, and some were there from that very first workshop.
The idea had always been that you would play a single character, while simultaneously each playing your own “character.” The Bride was the main focus of the game, and all of the players were always playing elements of the Bride’s psyche—the Sisters. But the exact mechanics necessary to make that concept work took some testing and changing to fully figure. Whitney, Marissa, and Sarah experimented with all kinds of mechanics before settling on the idea of a Ring to indicate which Sister was foremost in the Bride’s mind. They were all always present, all always capable of acting to some extent, but the Sister with the Ring was the only one capable of making certain moves. This ensured that there was never any out-of-game conflict over whose turn it was to act, while simultaneously ensuring that there was plenty of in-game conflict over who had the Ring. It allows for all of the players to play a single character in a smooth and interesting fashion.
Tied into the Ring and the particular moves its current holder can make (called, appropriately enough, Ring moves), was the question of whether or not the game should be diceless. When Bluebeard’s Bride began, it was based off the Powered by the Apocalypse framework, and therefore included moves that involved rolling 2d6, just like the majority of the PbtA games. But while that framework has tons of advantages, it also had some strange effects in Bluebeard’s Bride. It made elements of the game more uncertain than the designers actually wanted, and it undermined some of the tension of the game. When they experimented with diceless moves, there were some advantages, but it also removed too much tension—the rote input/output of the diceless mechanics didn’t contribute to the horror. Ultimately, they came up with the perfect balance, leaving certain moves which all the Sisters could access at any time as diceless, while making the Ring moves, accessible only to the holder of the Ring, based off dice. The diceless moves were also a nice nod to traditional ghost storytelling traditions.
Another core game innovation in Bluebeard’s Bride is the Tokens of Disloyalty and Loyalty, and the way they tie into the ending of the game. As you play Bluebeard’s Bride, you collect Tokens of Disloyalty or Loyalty from the rooms of Bluebeard’s manor. Tokens of Disloyalty show how the Bride is beginning to doubt or suspect Bluebeard, while Tokens of Loyalty show the opposite, how the Bride is still in love with and trusting of Bluebeard. The Tokens play heavily into the ending of the game, and the Bride’s final decision to either go into the room Bluebeard forbade them to enter, or to turn away. The reason these tokens are so innovative is because they have nothing to do with ideas of “success” or “failure”, but instead, force players to truly attend to their Sisters and the horror of the situation. It is not a victory in Bluebeard’s Bride to discover that Bluebeard is a threat, because that leaves the Bride in perhaps far more danger than she would ever otherwise face. Players of Bluebeard’s Bride are forced to make tough choices, which culminate in that final choice—does the Bride enter the room or not?—to instill horror and tension throughout the game.
There are many other innovative mechanics in the game, from the specific core moves like Shiver from fear, to the way that rooms are generated by the Groundskeeper (GM), to the way the Sisters together fill in details about the Bride. Be sure to check out the Kickstarter page when it goes live to find out more!
The Tale To Be Told
It took approximately two years for the game to get where it is today, but those two years were fantastically productive. Bluebeard’s Bride is not only ready for Kickstarter, it is refined to a razor’s edge. The game is designed, already thoroughly playtested, and the text is undergoing editing even now. The art is underway and gorgeous, and the core decisions around layout have already been made.
Thanks to the tireless efforts of Whitney, Marissa, and Sarah, Bluebeard’s Bride is an amazing game, and it will be an amazing book. We can’t wait until the 18th, and we hope you’re as excited as we are!