|This article needs an infobox. You can help by adding one.|
Bliss Stage is a tabletop game by Ben Lehman and self-published under his imprint, TAO Games. It is explicitly meant as his homage to the darker Super Robot shows, such as NeonGenesisEvangelion, RahXephon, and Bokurano.
Each player narrates the actions of a small stable of child/teen soldiers, fighters in a guerrila (sic) war against a deeply entrenched alien conquerer with outposts in the Resistance's dreams. Each player generally controls a Pilot, the Anchor of another player's Pilot, and assorted mechanically minor characters, while the Game Master controls and narrates the actions of the adult Authority Figure and of select mechanically minor characters.
The rules of Bliss Stage are unique in that most of the rules are for modeling relationships, fragile wartime relationships in general. The cycle of play strongly molds the ongoing story towards either a bittersweet tearjerker ending, or a tragic and/or horrifying one.
The game takes place in a future 7 years from the moment you begin play.
As the rules would have it, RIGHT NOW the first wave of an invasion by alien beings of pure thought is being launched, which will come to be known as "The Bliss."
This psychic attack has immediate and sinister effects: all humans in the world who have been sleeping regularly for 18 years or longer immediately and irrevocably fall into a form of stasis outwardly resembling a sleep with pleasant dreams. However, the Blissful cannot be roused, nor do they need to eat, drink, or breathe.
Without the guidance or labor pool provided by adults, industrial society collapses within weeks of the launching of the Bliss, and what society remains, particularly in urban areas, is that which the rule of child and teenage street gangs can carve out. As the years progress, the dreams of the survivors increasingly begin to share similarities, as the aliens build outposts in the dream and shape it to their will in a manner similar to that of the FairFolk/Rakasha from Exalted, and their ability to Shape the Wyld. Anyone else who hits their 18th year of regular sleep also falls to the Bliss.
Two years into the invasion, the aliens launch the second wave of their invasion. This wave consists of the Terror Drones, war-machines build with a hybrid of dream and waking technology and materials, which quickly decimate the tentative civilization of child survivors with "searing rays and noxious smokes" and other advanced weaponry capable of affecting the waking world.
Five years into the invasion, an adult who survived the Bliss, due to insomnia, narcolepsy, drug abuse or other forms of irregular sleep sets himself up as the Authority Figure of an organized resistance against the aliens. This resistance succesfully (sic) captures a Terror Drone, which they reverse-engineer into a weapon.
This weapon is known as the Alien Numina Inversion Machine, or ANIMa. The ANIMa sends a trained Pilot into an induced sleep with dreams, into which alien signals are introduced, allowing the lucidly dreaming Pilot to interact with the aliens. It then allows the pilot to create a psychic construct from his deep feelings for other survivors, commonly also known as an ANIMa, generally taking the form of a Mecha and literally made of what the author, Ben Lehman, refers to as "weaponized love." A relationship with many shared moments of Intimacy will result in a weapon with more raw destructive power; a weapon formed from a relationship built on Trust will be highly resistant to damage and wear.
A Pilot must be properly Anchored by a relationship to their command/control officer, or Anchor, in order to pilot safely. An Anchor is trained to interpret and filter the incoming data from the dream and relate it to the Pilot in a manner they can understand, in a manner similar to the duties of the Operators from the Matrix movies. It is an unwritten but practical requirement of the job that an Anchor be in love with their Pilot, whether this love takes the form of being brotherly/sisterly, romantic, or overtly sexual. The chassis of the mech the ANIMa forms for a pilot is invariably formed from their relationship to their Anchor.
The name "ANIMa" is possibly intended as a nod to the theories of an early pioneer in the field of psychological interpretation of dreams and the subconscious, Carl Jung: his concept of the "Anima" was that it was the "feminine side" and images of feminity within a male personality, while the "Animus" was the masculinity within a female personality. The fact that Anchors are explicitly meant to be the lovers of the Pilots, and that the rules actually require you to to name your Pilot's Anchor after an unrequited schoolyard crush of yours that you have lost contact with, also suggests this interpretation.
The game begins after two years of dangerous and sometimes deadly experimentation with the ANIMa, as the Resistance begins to fight the war in earnest.