Bluebeard’s Bride, which is currently on Kickstarter, is a new horror pen and paper RPG based on the creepy fairy tale from which the game takes its name. Players take on the different aspects of the bride’s psyche as she explores the deeply disturbing rooms of the house.
The fairy tale goes basically like this: a powerful but ugly man with a blue beard marries a young woman. On the night of their wedding, he leaves the house on urgent business; before he goes, he gives her the keys to every room in the manor, but he forbids her to open one of the rooms. When the bride gives in to her curiosity, she opens the forbidden room and finds within the bodies of all of his former brides.
I first heard a play-through of Bluebeard’s Bride on the One Shot Podcast, and it deeply disturbed me, in a good way! The game is rooted in the horror genre, and each room that the players investigated brought on both psychological and visual horror that left me creeped out, and gave me a lot to think about. You can listen to part one of the podcast below. You can find the second and third parts on the One Shot Podcast website.
I got the chance to chat with one of the co-creators of the RPG, Whitney Beltrán, about the game and how it all got started. She said that she and Sarah Richardson, the second co-creator of the game, were attending a game jam for women a couple of years ago. They had never met and just happened to sit down at the same table. It turns out they both loved mythology and fairy tales, so that’s when Beltrán thought of adapting the Bluebeard’s Bride fable into an RPG.
“Sarah loved it and we jumped right in. That’s when Marissa Kelley got involved. She was a facilitator at the jam, and came over to help us figure out what kind of rules structure we wanted. By the time we were done with the jam, all three of us loved what we had gotten started, and we decided to pursue it and develop the game for a commercial audience.”
As for why all of the players embody a different aspect of the bride, Beltrán says that in essence there are only two characters in the fairy tale, Bluebeard and the Bride. They knew straightaway that they couldn’t let people play as Bluebeard, because he’s the antagonist. So that just left the Bride.
“That’s where my graduate school training came in. I was able to make links between the structure of the fairy tale and archetypal psychology. A single person is very psychologically complex. Why not break out those different pieces into characters? For us, that’s when she became the capital B Bride. ”
The aspects of the bride, which the designers call the sisters, are incredibly evocative all on their own. Players can pick between sisters like the Animus, described as a woman who “holds onto righteousness with both hands. Others admire your strength and bow to your will”; the Fatale, described as a woman who “drips sensuality from your lips. Others watch your every move and crave for you to take control”; and the Witch, described as a woman who “braids magic from shadows and blood. Others desire a taste of your sin and pray for your undoing.”
Beltrán and her fellow designers decided on which archetypes fit the game the best, and then tailored those archetypes to the game, making their flavors match the eerie, haunting tone of Bluebeard’s Bride.
The game master then has the exciting and hard job of making the experience as creepy as possible for their players. The game centers around the bride using different keys to access the many rooms in the manor. In each room the bride is met by a unique macabre scene, usually embodied by the ghost of a previous wife. Beltrán says the best way to affect your players is to tailor each room to the players themselves.
“Our jobs as GMs is not to trot things out to make oogly boogly scary noises at the players, but rather to pull their own fears out of them and use those in deeply creepy ways,” explains Beltrán. “Players are the best arbiters of what is scary to them. We ask for and listen to cues throughout the game, all the way from character creation to the final room. We built that into the way the game works, and in addition we supply GMs with a lot of materials on the kinds of themes, rooms, and different flavors of freaky horror that they can use to build their games. I’ve never GMed the the game and done exactly the same room twice, and that’s because I let the players guide us to where they want to go.”
If you’re still nervous as to what to do when making a room, the core book of Bluebeard’s Bride will definitely help you with that. But even more helpful will be the Book of Rooms, which can be used as a strong reference guide to building your own rooms.
Even just listening to the One Shot Podcast episode that features Bluebeard’s Bride, I was intensely creeped out. It made me think about the different aspects that make up myself and how they interact with society.
Beltrán hopes that whoever plays the game takes something away from it. “I think this game strongly presents a unique way of understanding and being in the world. My hope is that players let themselves be vulnerable to it, enjoy it, and let it move them. It definitely has the capacity to do so if they let it. I think there’s a lot packed into the game, and players can choose what they want to take away from it. ”
Bluebeard’s Bride is currently on Kickstarter, and it has completely blown past its initial goal. There are several stretch goals that have been unlocked, including a new setting for the game, the Dark Carnival. Beltrán says the new setting will definitely be introducing new mechanics. The next two stretch goals are two more settings for the game, the Condemned Asylum and the Boarding School, both which promise to be rife with horror.
A different stretch goal also unlocked art prints that people can order in addition to the game itself. Right now Beltrán is the most excited about those art prints–so excited that she herself will be using them to decorate her house.
“Did I say that the art is gorgeous yet? Because the art is gorgeous. I am in love with it. I am going to get giant prints for my house, and whoever is going to be staying in my guest bedroom from now on may have a hard time sleeping. We recently made prints available as one of our accomplished stretch goals, and this is the one I’m most excited about right now. Bluebeard art everywhere!”
The Bluebeard’s Bride Kickstarter ends on Sunday, November 20th at 9:59 p.m. CDT.