It is the first blow of a terrible war. Seven years later, armed with technology you cannot comprehend and can barely operate, you will strike back.
This is how.
Bliss Stage is a tabletop roleplaying game written by Ben Lehman and produced by TAO Games on May 29, 2011. It is explicitly intended as his homage to Neon Genesis Evangelion and similar works such as Bokurano and RahXephon. It is available at his website, These Are Our Games, with more information at the blog and fansite Love Is My Weapon.
The moment the game begins, malevolent aliens afflict humanity as a whole with The Bliss, a form of stasis locking the adult population of the world into a sleep with apparently blissful dreams, leaving the child and teenaged survivors in a Crapsack World ravaged by occasional attacks by alien terror drones.
A lone, insomniac, and very probably Ax-Crazy adult manages to rally the local survivors and, to their enduring astonishment, capture one of the drones. They quickly reverse engineer it into the Alien Numina Inversion Machine, or ANIMa, a machine that converts relationships into a source of Psychic Power taking the form of a Humongous Mecha: The deeper the relationship, the more powerful its weapons. The pilot of this ANIMa needs to be properly Anchored (in a manner similar to the duties of the Operators) by a "trained psychologist," usually just someone who they have a crush on.
The game being a Deconstruction of The Power of Love, a pilot's ANIMa is powered by their relationships with other characters, so extremely complicated romantic entanglements just happen in this game. In addition, each pilot accumulates Bliss throughout the game, eventually reaching 108 Bliss, whereupon they either die or leave the game. Endings are often bittersweet or a little more disturbing.
This game provides examples of:
- 108: Word of God has it that this is the reason the game ends when you go over 108 Bliss.
- Adults Are Useless: Both averted and played straight, in different ways. The economy and infrastructure of the civilized world collapses without the adults, but the PCs are all teenagers and the Authority Figure is inevitably a Magnificent Bastard at best and a Jerk Ass at worst.
- Animesque: An unusual example. While there's no art or animation, Ben Lehman listed Neon Genesis Evangelion, Macross and RahXephon as influences, and the influence of Japanese tropes is evident.
- Applied Phlebotinum: The ANIMa, a mysterious machine which uses alien brainwaves to create giant robots powered by strong emotion.
- Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: One of the possible results of the endgame.
- Black Box: No one knows how the ANIMa work; the rulebook even speculates that the only functional part of the entire rig is a chunk of alien brain.
- Black Bug Room: Where a pilot ends up if you botch a Pilot Safety/Nightmare check. The reason you need an Anchor is to prevent this from happening.
- Break the Cutie: One of the character types is the Innocent Sweetheart, so this is likely to happen.
- Competence Zone: Between the ages of 13 and 17. Before that you can't Pilot; after that you Bliss.
- Crapsack World: No electricity. No food. No sewage systems. Aliens trying to kill you. And you Bliss at age 18.
- Deconstruction: Of The Power of Love, though most players try to immediately reconstruct the trope. And succeed.
- Deus Sex Machina: In the form of Level-Up at Intimacy 5 and More Friends, More Benefits.
- Do Well, but Not Perfect: The stronger your relationships, the more dice you roll during missions, getting a plus, minus, or zero for each die. A plus is good, a zero is bad, and a minus is really bad. You then assign these dice to various categories: one die to succeed at that step of the mission, one to keep yourself safe, and one for each relationship you're using in order to protect that relationship. However, unassigned dice give you points of Bliss. No points for zeroes, but you get one point for a minus and a whopping three for every unassigned plus. When you hit 108 points of Bliss, your pilot stops being a playable characterrunning away, falling asleep forever, taking over for the Authority Figure, or dying heroically. A character with multiple strong relationships can keep everyone they care about safe, but will end up Blissing Out sooner rather than later.
- Dream Land: The aliens' home turf.
- Eldritch Location: The dream realm where the pilots carry out missions is open to interpretation by the pilots' anchors...at least until things go awry and the anchor loses control, then it can quickly become a Black Bug Room.
- The End of the World as We Know It: The Bliss, which has knocked out all adults before the start of the game.
- Failure Knight: You can safely assume you are not your Anchor's first love. Or even their first pilot.
- Fun with Acronyms: Alien Numina Inversion Machine shortens to ANIMa. ...Sure, Ben. Sure.
- GMPC: Required in the form of the Authority Figure. In fact, if any other player has a character who becomes the Authority Figure, that player must become the new GM!
- Handsome Lech: As of the beginning of the one-shot, Keenan Caine has snagged all of the girls (judging by their Intimacy scores). Depending on what names and genders you assign to the Anchors, he's also snagged a couple of the guys.
- How Do I Shot Web?: The ANIMa was created six years after roughly "Right Now". The war began in earnest after another year of deadly trial and error. And it's still very hard to control an ANIMa without the guidance of an Anchor.
- Heroic BSoD: the probable result of getting to 108 Bliss in the Endgame.
- Humongous Mecha: the ANIMa and the alien terror drones.
- Insistent Terminology: They're a Creche and a Cradle, not a hangar and an Entry Plug, respectively.
- Intimate Healing: Since the game mechanics are mostly based on a character's emotional state rather than their physical state, this can happen in the form of a Stress Relief or Trauma Relief result during an Interlude.
- Jerk Ass: Any Authority Figure, period. Some also say this about Keenan.
- Kick the Dog in the continuing examples, followed soon afterwards by an attempt to Murder the Hypotenuse:Keenan: Man, Sara is getting all girly and clingy and shit. I don't want to deal with that. Lousy lay, too.Josh: Fuck. That. Noise.
- Level-Up at Intimacy 5: Trope namer; the only way to be effective in ANIMa combat is to deepen your relationship with your Anchor and others.
- Lotus-Eater Machine: The Bliss itself could potentially be one, depending on interpretation.
- Love Triangle: In the continuing examples and the one-shot. Triang Relations Type 4: Josh is A, Sarah B, and Keenan C. Happens a lot in actual play, too, sometimes to the point of a —
- Love Dodecahedron: If your Pilot doesn't have one, they're seriously underpowered.
- Mission Control: the Anchors. In game, the Anchor's player acts as Mission Control and describes the terrain in combat.
- More Friends, More Benefits: Former Trope Namer. The path to More Dakka in this game is wrapping your Pilot in a Love Dodecahedron of ludicrous proportions.
- Moe Couplet: Sara and Josh. Their love is so innocent. This in a relentlessly Grim Dark game.
- Only Fatal to Adults: The Bliss. Specifically, it's only fatal if you turn eighteen.
- Parental Abandonment: The Bliss in general — and Josh Preston's father, the Authority Figure of La Résistance in the continuing examples, who didn't look for him after the Bliss hit in particular.
- Present Day Present Time: This is when the Bliss hits, while the actual gameplay takes place 20 Minutes into the Future.
- Promotion to Parent: To be expected when the world suddenly loses all adults.
- Psychic Powers: Mechanically significant combat takes place entirely in a bizarre dream-world.
- Relationship Values: There are six stats in the game. Three of them are Relationship Values - Intimacy, Trust and Stress. And the other three measure how screwed your Pilot is.
- Rule of Cool: The only possible explanation of why the ANIMa creates a robot.
- The Power of Love: Ben Lehman's favorite way of describing the ANIMa is "It runs on weaponized love."
- Tsundere: Anna Lin in the running examples and introductory adventure.
- The Virus: The Bliss had serious overtones of this, before the before time.
- This Is Not a Drill: Uttered in the example first action.
- Word Salad Title: While it may seem like this, the trope is averted: the name is a reference to the "Bliss Stage" of a relationship - basically, the psychological term for the honeymoon period.
- Write Who You Know: Invoked. The rules suggest naming Anchors after the players' unrequited crushes from when they were the age of their Pilot characters. It's also pointed out that using the name of someone you still know would be rather creepy, considering certain mechanics.
- You Lose at Zero Trust: The Trope Namer. Relationships are destroyed when they hit zero trust, which deals serious mental (and possibly physical) damage to the people involved. The stronger the relationship, the worse the damage.