Bliss Stage is blowing my mind.

I’m going to just assume you know I’m talking about the rules-lite RPG inspired by Neon Genesis Evangelion. If you aren’t familiar with the Level-up At Intimacy 5 trope, I can recommend that trope for beginning your research.

Bliss Stage is a game that gives the relationships between characters stats on equal — and sometimes greater — footing to the characters themselves. If you’re familiar with the infamous “Tantrum Spiral” of Dwarf Fortress, then you’ll love how death affects characters in relationships. I can only imagine.

Some of the genius is in the simplicity of the mechanics — that’s what I want to talk about first. There are maybe six kinds of numbers you ever have to track.

Pilots (the main PCs) have trauma, terror, and bliss. Bliss is comparable to “level” in that it only ever increases. On occasions where a clear victor in Pilot-on-Pilot conflict isn’t obvious, the Pilot with more Bliss generally wins. However, Bliss eventually forces a Pilot into retirement — which is often death.

Terror accumulates during missions — “solo” adventures — when terror exceeds trauma, trauma increments and terror is reset. Simple enough mechanic.

Relationships also have three stats — trust, stress, and intimacy. There are some interesting parallels. Relationships accumulate stress, which in turn erodes trust. This is similar to how terror increments trauma but in the opposite direction.

Intimacy is comparable to Bliss in that it — under most circumstances — only increases and never decreases. Intimacy serves important mechanical benefits however, and caps at 5. When a relationship is destroyed, intimacy is lost.

So the cycle of the game works like this:
– A Pilot embarks on a mission, accumulates trauma and stress.
– Post-mission, the Pilot recovers from trauma and/or stress.
– The next Pilot embarks on a mission…

Now, since a Pilot will tend to accumulate more trauma and stress than they can recover from during a single interlude, and each mission piles trauma and stress on the next Pilot, many of the characters will quickly start circling the drain.

You can build intimacy at the same rate you can recover trauma, so there’s little mechanical benefit to choosing one over the other — well, that is at least until you hit 6 trauma and your Pilot dies in the middle of a mission.

Tension builds naturally through the accumulation of such terrifying stats as trauma and stress — and players will find themselves needing to take more dramatic actions in order to accomplish missions.

Play continues until all the Pilots die or “Bliss out.”

Unlike Arkham Horror, there’s no final battle for everyone to take part in — the game is one of attrition in which the characters burn brightly and briefly.

One of the other geniuses of the game is delegation of GM duties, but that’s going to require another post to discuss. Also, I think I know what to steal!