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Tabletop Game / Bliss Stage

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Right now, the moment you began reading this, Humanity is devastated by an alien attack from the edges of our understanding.
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.
—Back cover text

Bliss Stage is a tabletop roleplaying game by Ben Lehman & PH Lee. It was released in 2007 and picked up by publisher TAO Games in 2011. It is an homage to Neon Genesis Evangelion and similar works such as Bokurano and RahXephon. Currently it can be found at the TAO website and sold by various RPG PDF sites.

The story involves alien invaders afflicting humanity with "the Bliss", a form of stasis locking the adult population into an unwaking sleep with apparently blissful dreams. Children and teenagers are left to deal with societal collapse and the occasional alien terror drone attack.

A lone, insomniac, and probably Ax-Crazy adult manages to rally some survivors and, to their enduring astonishment, capture one of the drones. They 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 power it contributes to the mecha. With this, they fight back against the aliens in the hopes of liberating Earth. ANIMa pilots also need to be Anchored (in a manner similar to the Operators from The Matrix) by a "trained psychologist", usually just someone they have a crush on. Some players take the role of pilots, while others are anchors.

The game being a Deconstruction of The Power of Love, developing more and stronger relationships is encouraged as a way to make your mecha more powerful, so complicated romantic entanglements happen a lot but can have nasty consequences. In addition, each pilot accumulates a "Bliss score" through various means, and dies or otherwise becomes unplayable when they reach 108 Bliss. The game's ending is often bittersweet or a little more disturbing.

There are two editions of the game, "Ignition Stage" and "Interim Stage", the latter apparently only containing minor wording changes and clarifications (the authors, to their credit, offered to provide a free upgrade for anyone who bought the first edition.) A third edition with significant gameplay changes, "Acceleration Stage", was announced but never released.

Troper Tsundere Lightning was tapped by the authors for a Visual Novel adaptation, Bliss Stage: Love Is Your Weapon, which also fizzled out and was never released. Overall the game did not receive much attention, though a Something Awful user did write a critical and somewhat humorous review which can be read here.

This game provides examples of:

  • Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: Encouraged by the Interludes, which are shorter scenes taking place in the "real world" as opposed to the psychic dimension where you fight the aliens. They primarily serve to develop relationships between characters (though not necessarily in a positive way...)
  • Adults Are Useless: Both averted and played straight, in different ways. The world's economy and infrastructure collapses without the adults, but the PCs actually getting stuff done during the game are all teenagers. The one adult character, called the Authority Figure, is inevitably a Manipulative Bastard at best and a Jerkass at worst.
  • 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: Ages 13 to 17, in a very clear-cut example of this trope. Before that you're too young to operate an ANIMa, after that you fall into a Bliss coma.
  • Crapsack World: No farms. No electricity. No sewage systems. Aliens trying to kill you. And you fall into a coma 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 character— falling victim to the Bliss sleep, running away, 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 and led to societal collapse.
  • 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 (like anime).
  • GMPC: Required in the form of the Authority Figure. In fact, if another player's character usurps the Authority Figure, that player must become the new GM!
  • Handsome Lech: At the beginning of the prewritten 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 the alien invasion. 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Jerkass: Any Authority Figure, period. Some also say this about Keenan, one of the pregen characters featured in the rulebook.
  • 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.
  • La Résistance: The player-characters all are members of one of these, fighting the aliens and attempting to free humanity.
  • Level-Up at Intimacy 5: Trope namer; the only way to get better at ANIMa combat is to deepen your relationship with your Anchor and others. In order to reach the actual Intimacy 5 level with someone, you need to either be family or sleep with them, which is kinda creepy considering all the PCs are underage.
  • Love Triangle: In the rulebook examples and the one-shot. Josh is attracted to Sarah, who is with Keenan. 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 Grimdark game.
  • Never Sleep Again: The Bliss only gets you when you go to sleep, so any surviving adults have managed to remain awake for seven years. The rulebook doesn't describe how they've done this — Applied Phlebotinum, presumably — but does note it's taken a toll on their psyches.
  • Only Fatal to Adults: The Bliss. Specifically, it's only fatal when you turn eighteen. Except it might not actually kill you. The protagonists certainly don't know.
  • Parental Abandonment: The results of the invasion in general — and Josh Preston's father, the Authority Figure of La Résistance in the rulebook stories, who didn't look for him after the invasion 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: All mechanically significant combat (i.e. [ANIMas vs. aliens, as opposed to humans fistfighting) takes place in a bizarre dream-world where your mind propels you.
  • Relationship Values: There are six stats in the game. Three of them measure the status of an interpersonal relationship (Intimacy, Trust and Stress) and the other three measure a character's mental state (Trauma, Terror and Bliss).
  • Rule of Cool: The only possible explanation of why the ANIMa creates a robot.
  • The Power of Family: Although much of the game's focus is on romantic relationships, familial ones can be just as strong and help you fight the aliens.
  • The Power of Love: Ben Lehman's favorite way of describing the ANIMa is "It runs on weaponized love."
  • Tsundere: Anna Lin in the rulebook examples and pre-written adventure.
  • Teenage Wasteland: Most survivors have formed into gangs that scavenge for supplies and often attack each other.
  • The Virus: The Bliss had serious overtones of this, before the before time.
  • This Is Not a Drill: Uttered in one of the rulebook example scenarios.
  • 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 - a more formal 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.