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Bluebeard’s Bride: Behind the Curtain

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Here is a glimpse behind the curtain of how one of the ring moves for Bluebeard’s Bride was developed. I will explain my thought process when my fellow designers and I took the functioning version of dirty yourself with violence and reshaped it into a version that encompasses everything the game really demanded from it.  

Dirty yourself with violence is triggered when a player with the ring resorts to violent action in the game, however unbecoming that may be for a lady.

2-keyWhen you dirty yourself with violence, roll + Carnality. On a hit, you inflict trauma as established and choose 1:  

  • disable them
  • silence them
  • mutilate them

On a 7-9, choose one from below as well:

  • your vulnerability opens you up to trauma
  • your carelessness leaves you in a bad spot

However, this move didn’t always work this way. One of our first functioning versions of the move was as follows:

When you dirty yourself with violence, roll +Carnality. On a 10+, trade trauma as established. On a 7-9, you break yourself upon them; take an additional trauma.

This version of the dirty yourself with violence move worked, but like many first drafts, it wasn’t enough. It had several issues, including a muddled tone, weak consequences, and it did not meet my vision for the game. It was a perfectly functional move, but functional just wasn’t enough.

Not Good Enough

The problem with this version seemed to be that as a ring move, it should feel like a big deal when players trigger it. Ring moves should have a lot of impact, as they are reserved for one player who in charge of the physical body, and the final arbiter in disagreements. If used, ring moves should cause drama and possible disagreement among the their players about HOW you wield that power.

However, the original incarnation of the move is also really fucking boring. The move is is over before you even have time to process why or what happened. The outcomes are completely technical, giving the player no choices, and the name of the move seemed to be doing all of the heavy lifting fictionally. Our goal was to subvert the player’s expectation of being powerful, but the name was the only part of the move doing that. Players were triggering the move and becoming confused when the outcome was less than “your problems go away”.

Overall, a boring move isn’t adding enough to the game to justify the amount of slack it makes the Groundskeeper (or GM) pick up. When a move is dynamic and specific you can really hear it sing. Outcomes of a great move should flow naturally and both the GM and the player should know what’s coming. When the players expect the move to work one way, and the GM expects another, you know there’s a real problem.

Making a Good Move Sing

To address these concerns I first tried thinking about all of the possible outcomes I wanted to see. That list lent itself to three easy categories: disable them, silence them, mutilate them. Next, I returned to some other well established moves from games like Apocalypse World to refresh myself on different move structures. Unleash an attack from the Urban Shadows basic moves hit a chord and I took a new approach to the move dirty yourself with violence, keeping my 3 categories of outcomes in mind.

I deleted the original move, wiping it from my immediate reality,  before running through a checklist in my mind:

Do I have a trigger? A good trigger has to be fictionally interesting all on it’s own, and should advance the narrative even if nothing came before.

✓When you dirty yourself with violence,

What are they rolling with? Stats don’t need to be evenly distributed among the moves, but they should all carry equal weight.

✓roll +Carnality.

Does it matter if they get a 10+ versus a hit? Not for this move. The focus should be on the hit because we don’t want an extra successful use of dirty yourself with violence to look any better than a hit.  

✓On a hit, you inflict trauma as established and choose 1:  

What is the Bride allowed to accomplish? By spelling out what the Bride can get from resorting to violence, we squash the expectation of her being simply “being a badass”. As you can see, that is not an option listed below, and neither is “your problems go away”.

  • ✓disable them
  • ✓silence them
  • ✓mutilate them

What should the consequences be for the Bride? I asked myself, if the Bride lowers herself to the level of resorting to violence, what consequences would society expect to logically flow for the Bride?  

  •      ✓On a 7-9, choose one from below as well:
  •      ✓your vulnerability opens you up to trauma
  •      ✓your carelessness leaves you in a bad spot

And BOOM! We have a new, more functional move that supports the tone and fiction we want in Bluebeard’s Bride.

The Bride’s actions when using the current version of dirty yourself with violence must be specific and clear, and unfortunately for all concerned, they must be violent. This is not a gentle push or half-hearted attempt to flee—this is the desire to do harm to another being. The Bride can no longer delude herself with the notion that she is powerful, and she must choose from the limited options (disable them, silence them, or mutilate them), none of which include “solve your problems.”

Example of Dirty Yourself with Violence

TraumaI am the Groundskeeper and the Bride is cornered in the house’s kennel by a strong looking woman in noble dress and hunting gear, with a fox pelt hanging from her belt. She is forcing the Bride’s head down into a trough full of water.

“She keeps your head under so long you feel your lungs straining,” I say. “And when she lets you up, you don’t have time to get a breath. The water is in your nose, your mouth…”

“Time to do some violence!” the Animus says. She rolls a 9 and chooses silence them.

“Okay,” I say. “You have to choose one of the lower options as well, plus tell me what you do to the woman.”

“Let’s go with your carelessness leaves you in a bad spot,” the Animus says. “I reach out and grab hold of her ankle, flipping the woman onto her back. Then I jump up and wrench the trough off the wall, bashing her in the mouth with it.”

I tell her, “Blood wells up in the woman’s mouth as she makes a choked wail. You’re so busy gloating over her, you don’t hear the footsteps behind you, don’t notice the man who answers her cry until he grabs your shoulder and spins you around…

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