In last month’s Genre Police article on Grimm-style fairytales, Ben described Magpie Games’ Bluebeard’s Bride as the darkest of the dark roleplaying games.
In the tabletop game players are different personalities of a bride trapped in a cavalcade of horrors and married to the murdering Bluebeard. The game is based on the French Bluebeard folktale.
Magpie Games recently released Book of Mirrors, the third supplement for the RPG, which adds new Sisters to the game, helpful Groundskeeper advice and a letter from Bluebeard himself to read aloud at the table.
Co-written by Marisa Kelly the supplement expands on the Apocalypse powered game of feminine horror and costs $13.99 as a PDF (at the time of writing). You can pre-order the physical book from Magpie Games.
Geek Native is lucky enough to have Marissa Kelly here to help us run an appropriately dark Bluebeard.
Ben used ‘darkest of the dark’ to describe Bluebeard’s Bride, and I used ‘feminine horror’. Are those about right?
Yep! Bluebeard’s Bride is a tabletop roleplaying game of supernatural horror set in a familiar fairy tale. The tale starts simply enough: one room in Bluebeard’s house is forbidden to the Bride. She eventually falls prey to her curiosity and opens it, discovering gruesome evidence that reveals her husband to be a killer of women. The game you play is different— you and your friends explore the rooms of Bluebeard’s home as his bride, creating your own beautifully tragic version of the dark fairy tale.
“Darkest of the dark” and “feminine horror” sound like good descriptions of the kind of themes that work well in haunted house fiction. While playing Bluebeard’s Bride you must at some level want to explore the horror of a no-win scenario and play around in a world that has strict and morally corrupt gender roles.
But whoever sits down to play the game brings their own flavor of horror with them. So, I believe that “darkest of the dark” and “feminine horror” should be seen as the seeds you plant, but the fear you and your friends bring to the table is really what will determine the horror that grows.
If this isn’t a genre readers are familiar with; what should they pay attention to when they read the game?
In many ways, Bluebeard’s Bride is a ghost story, one in which we collectively explore the horrors of a haunted house. Movies like Crimson Peak and Winchester as well as television shows like American Horror Story are good touchstones to check out before running your own game. Other roleplaying games, like the Call of Cthulhu series have a similar attitude towards play: from the first minute, players know their characters are all in for a bad time.
If none of that seems familiar, the book will walk you through everything you need, from the original fairytale to how to create a creepy room for your players. Bluebeard’s Bride will help set the tone with principles and moves to use in your game, in text examples that explain how play might look, and templates that show the groundskeeper how to keep the narrative consistent within each room.
It has everything you need to look up your own horror touchstones and create a wonderfully terrifying game!
My initial reaction to Bluebeard’s Bride was; it sounds hard to play. I don’t tend to play female characters and know I can’t do it well and I’ve never played just one fraction of a character. Is it a challenging game to play? What tips would you give me to get into character?
It’s not hard for men to play! There are plenty of tips and support in the book to help anyone feel comfortable playing the game. We want players of all genders to experience Bluebeard’s estate.
The Bride is a complicated woman who does not always have her mind made up, so when you take on the role of an aspect of the Bride’s psyche – a Sister – you and your Sisters may not always agree, mimicking the internal struggle we all sometimes feel when confronted with difficult choices. One Sister may feel the need to rebel and push further in her investigation, while another Sister labors to regain control in the face of her fears.
These are all very human themes. You do not have to be a woman to explore or connect with the Bride and her experience in the game. If you find yourself struggling to represent a female perspective, don’t worry, just represent what you know. The game will be better for your honest fears.
My second reaction to reading up on Bluebeard’s Bride was that it sounds like an even harder game to run. Is this a game that anyone can pick up or is it best for groups and Game Masters (Groundskeepers) with a bit of experience under their belts?
Bluebeard’s Bride is written with both new and experienced Roleplayers in mind and because it is a oneshot, we designed it to be a wonderful pickup game with replay value.
If you are feeling overwhelmed with running the game, just lean on the
Tell your players the summary of the Bluebeard fairy tale. This will prime everyone for what story they are about to tell together.
Have players choose, fill out, and introduce their character (Sister) sheets.
Describe your first creepy room to your players and ask “What do you do?”
Just think of the rest of the game as a conversation! The rules, Groundskeeper sheets, and moves are there to help facilitate your own version of the dark fairy tale. The game is easy to run because every part flows immediately from what just happened, and the Sisters have a very clear goal in the story.
Do you have any recommendations for Groundskeepers to help them settle their players down at the start of the game and get them in the right mood and mindset?
Before you begin, you and your group should discuss what kind of game Bluebeard’s Bride is and decide whether or not it is a good fit for the group that night. In this game, the goal is not just to scare or creep out the characters you play, but to frighten you as players.
This kind of experience requires at least a minimal amount of buy in. You would not show up to a funeral wearing a clown suit, and you should not play a horror game when you would rather play a game about superheroes. Making sure that everyone is on the same page before you start is the key to getting a great game experience.
How should the Groundskeeper consider levering up the tension and unfolding horror (or holding it steady) as the game progresses?
To keep the tension high in your scenes, pay close attention to your players. When running a horror game you need to do more than just listen to what they say, you also need to pay attention to how they say it, what makes them cringe, and what their body language reveals about their actions.
Highly detailed descriptions of the scenery of the room; textures, sounds, and even smells–regardless of immediate danger–are a powerful tool for horror. Make the players hang on your every word by drawing them into the room you see inside your head. The threat of violence is sometimes an easy escape for the players. Don’t give them that release, instead do what you can to the situation to make them squirm.
Scaring everyone at the table at once is a tall task that rarely pans out. Instead, orient your descriptions around creeping out the player who has the ring (control of the Bride). Focus all your efforts on making that player shiver from fear.
When you shiver from fear, name the thing you are most afraid will happen; the Groundskeeper will tell you how it’s worse than you feared. Keep the ring and choose two, or pass the ring and choose one:
- It infects the Bride with its perversion.
- It has the Bride in its clutches right now.
- It speaks to you. Take one trauma…. Just you, Sister.
Try to make your players wrinkle their noses as your description of the sour smell of decay seeps into their mind. Try to make your players straighten in their chairs as you describe the snagging feeling of untrimmed nails dragging across the back of the bride’s lace dress. Try to make your players cover their ears as you whisper the last words the bride spoke, over and over, and over again….
Once your players shiver from fear they will tell you what happens next. Listen to them, and tell them how it is worse and repeat.
Does the Book of Mirrors help Groundskeepers with any of these challenges? Is it a good book to buy if you haven’t tried running a session of Bluebeard’s Bride at all but worry you might need some extra help?
Book of Mirrors is a sourcebook for the core roleplaying game Bluebeard’s Bride that gives you all the materials you need to play the game in new and interesting settings. The base game assumes that you’re the young bride of Bluebeard left alone to investigate his mansion, but with these playsets, you can play entirely new stories, still all centered around Bluebeard and your faithfulness or disloyalty to him.
In this book, you get five new playsets for Bluebeard’s Bride, each featuring:
- a letter from Bluebeard for you to read aloud at the table
- specific Groundskeeper advice to help you navigate these new settings
- new Sisters, custom move sheets, and play materials
In other words, each playset contains everything you might need to play an entirely different version of the original game. In the Book of Mirrors Bluebeard takes on different faces, different domains… and different wives. And the Bride discovers new opportunities to prove her faithfulness to Bluebeard or let curiosity get the better of her to reveal her disloyalty for all to see. Players to take on the role of different kind of brides – some that may or may not have marriage on their minds – and gives you the keys to explore the grounds of new estates that range from a Dark Carnival of Wonders to the Granville Correctional Facility.
Nothing is what is seems, and yet all are chilling and familiar.
How do you know if you’re pushing players too far into scenes they’re not comfortable with? How do you know if you’re not pushing hard enough?
If your players are not triggering the move “shiver from fear” you may not be scaring them enough. Alternatively, if your players are turning to the exit moves and only triggering “escape,” you may need to tone down the sense of panic that your players are perceiving in order to let them feel comfortable enough to explore the objects in the room and propose a truth about what happened to whom and why.
If you are having trouble scaring your players, try focusing on the player with the ring. Look at them, talk to only them, and listen to what they say with more weight than any other player. While they have the ring, your goal is to try and make them shiver from fear. If you are having trouble, try to scare yourself. If you can scare yourself, your vision of the horrors will be more vivid, your descriptions will be richer, and you should have no trouble scaring your players.
If you find your players are too scared to stay in one room long enough to propose a truth, try to give them “friendly” horrors rather than overtly hostile ones. A friendly horror might admire the bride, wish to serve her, or wish to protect her. Or even introduce a friendly servant to reassure the bride that everything is okay long enough to reset the tension.
That said, the issues that Bluebeard’s Bride raises are often disturbing and uncomfortable, so I encourage my table to practice self care and play with an X-Card at the table. This tool is designed to help manage difficult content without flagging anything in advance. I want to know that everyone had a good time getting scared, so to do that I empower my players to be able to tell me when I (or another player) has made that too hard to do, then together we correct that mismatched narrative element, and keep going!
Are there any musical scores, soundtracks or tunes that you think would make for an appropriate background to the game?
Absolutely! I always set the mood of my Bluebeard’s Bride games by playing at night, dimming the lights, lighting candles, and queuing the creepy music.
There is a list of great music in the mediography of the game, but my personal playlist is made of songs like Koyaanisqatsi by Philip Glass for wide open religious themed rooms, the Prince of Darkness soundtrack for more gritty crafting rooms, and Pan’s Labyrinth soundtrack for more intimate and delicate rooms.
What will you be working on next?
February 7th the Bluebeard’s Bride Deck of Objects and the Tarot of Servants will be available for sale!
The Deck of Objects is a supplement for Bluebeard’s Bride that includes 48 illustrated mysterious objects, three deluxe ring cards, five double-sided turn order cards, and instructions for creating your own objects.
Read these cards aloud and watch your players squirm in their seats as they search Bluebeard’s haunted mansion.
The Tarot of Servants is a fully illustrated dark-occult tarot that features horrors from Bluebeard’s mansion. This 84 card deck twists the traditional Rider Waite tarot and expands what is possible with several alternate Major Arcana from the Deck of Thoth. The Tarot of Servants contains all you need for traditional readings, custom readings, or to make servants for a game of Bluebeard’s Bride.
Do you dare to peek behind the curtain and see your fate?