A tale of horror, with a grave choice at the end. Rooms upon rooms, each one more terrifying than the last. Just last week I got to chat with Marissa Kelly of Magpie Games and bring you into the uncomfortable world of their investigatory horror tabletop roleplaying game, Bluebeard’s Bride. There are a lot of doors to open in that mansion, however, and the tale is not quite over. Bluebeard’s Bride has grown beyond the core book in the year and change since it came out, with multiple supplements intended to enhance and expand upon the game. You’re in luck (or are you), because we’ve got a two-in-one review of both of the supplements currently on the market: the Book of Lore and the Book of Rooms!
Magpie Games didn’t think they had to get very subtle with the titles of their Bluebeard’s Bride supplements, at least not so far. The Book of Lore is exactly what it says it is: a tome of lore concerning the story of Bluebeard’s Bride, their own version of the folktake written by Elizabeth Chaipraditkul (with additional writing by Mark Diaz Truman).
Unlike the tale of Bluebeard that is presented as an example in the core book, which pretty much stuck to the classical formula, the tale told within the Book of Lore follows the actual formula of the Bluebeard’s Bride game. Rather than giving into curiosity and making a beeline for the forbidden room, the Bride of the Book of Lore explores several rooms of the mansion, just like you would in the game, encountering the horrors within and questioning herself, her husband, and her surroundings more and more as time goes on. The tale also feels a lot more grounded because it actually starts before the Bride and Bluebeard are married, beginning with their initial meeting. Like Sarah Richardson discusses in the introduction, any misinformed inclination to wonder how the Bride is falling into this nightmare is dispersed as we get to see how Bluebeard weaves his trap with charm, gifts, and social expectations.
Dipping into the CHG archive, the closest analogue for what the Book of Lore offers is the Book of Changing Years for Timewatch from Pelgrane Press. You’re not getting anything mechanical to help with your game; rather, you’re getting what is essentially an in-universe example of play along with a . . . well I wouldn’t call it a ‘fun’ read in this case, precisely, but it’s a good and interesting one that can help inspire your own game. Chaipraditkul’s writing nails the horror aspect dead on, and the rooms her Bride explores could easily find a home in or provide fodder for your own game of Bluebeard’s Bride. It’s basically a case study in how to creep out your table with a feminine horror mansion, wrapped up in a story that’ll have you flipping/clicking through the pages with a growing sense of dread all its own.
There’s one issue I have with the Book of Lore; keeping to the format of the game, the story attempts to mimic the choice that the players have to make at the end. The reader is prompted, after the Bride leaves the third room, to choose: is the Bride loyal, disloyal, or curious? Depending on your choice you’re given a page to turn to, and the consequences of your choice play out to finish the story. Each ending is as well-written as the rest of the Book, and each has a unique way to deliver an emotional gut-punch of a conclusion. But I found the actual choosing . . . kind of jarring. The sudden switch from a horror folktale to a choose-your-own-adventure conclusion pulled me out of the story a bit, and the sense of dread that had built up slid away slightly. Granted it came rushing right back in all three endings, but still. I’m not sure how things could have been done differently without losing that aspect of the Bride making a choice, though, aside from a Clue-like idea where there were three versions of the Book, but that doesn’t seem very practical even inside my own head.
Is the Book of Lore good? Yes. Though the format at the end threw me a bit, it was an enjoyably creepy version of the story that, at the same time, helped me better understand how a game of Bluebeard’s Bride might look. Even if someone wasn’t interested in playing Bluebeard’s Bride, if they’re a fan of the Grimm-er variety of folktale the Book of Lore would be worth checking out, and like I’ve said before that’s exactly what this kind if supplement wants to be.
I remarked in my review of the core book that Bluebeard’s Bride had a lot of creative freedom to offer, and on the side of the Groundskeeper running the game a lot of that manifests in creating the rooms the Bride explores, complete with the horrors that dwell within. The core book presents you with the categories of room and the building blocks to make them, but I did think while reading that it would probably be a bit challenging as well to come up with ideas on the fly, especially for a horror game where breaking the tension to scribble notes might deflate the experience a bit. Enter the Book of Rooms, full of exactly what you think it is to drop into or inspire your own game.
Each room, and there are a whopping 40 of them in the Book, is presented in the same format. A room has a unique name, and is marked with which of the broad Threats it presents along with the subtype: Motherhood -> Abuse or Sexuality -> Humiliation, for example. The door to the room is described, followed by the fateful “The room beckons. You enter, and the door closes behind you.” There’s a description of the room itself, including its contents, sights, sounds, and (ugh) smells. Here’s where we get to the crunchy bits: there are four Mysterious Objects littered about the room for the Bride to investigate, perhaps even take as a Token of Faithfulness/Disloyalty. Finally, two of the Mysterious Objects have a Horror attached to it, some trait or event or monster (or monstrous person) that can reveal itself upon being investigated. Notably, the other two Mysterious Objects are left open to interpretation, so the Groundskeeper can create custom horrors of their own (keeping up the ability to be creative even while offering pre-written material).
The rooms are divided into the four wings of the mansion, each of which has a theme/function relative to the overall estate: North (Entertainment), West Wing (Support), East Wing (Craft), and South Wing (Intimate). All told, between all the rooms you have a full and functional mansion. For examples:
The Basement Study in the East Wing has the threat of Religion -> Underworld, and a thin door hidden under the stairs and behind dusty furniture leading to wooden stairs smelling of smoke and mold. Once the Bride arrives in the secret basement she’ll find a room with crude lighting and immaculate white floral wallpaper, flooded with murky water up to her calves. The Mysterious Objects are a large fireplace with a chimney, a huge taxidermy bear with human eyes, a shiny object beneath the murky waters, and an old dirty piano with bent and deformed keys. Looking up the chimney will reveal a pale woman with long wet hair stuck within, begging to be let out; help her escape and she’ll take possession of the Bride’s body and attempt to drown herself again to escape the horrors she’s experienced. Enter the field of vision of the taxidermy bear’s human eyes and the creature will come alive and attempt to take from the Bride the human parts it needs to complete its transformation from animal to human.
The Infirmary in the West Wing threatens the Bride’s Body with the specter of Disability, entered through a pair of swinging doors chained together by a lock looking like two serpents wrapped around a staff. The room actually juts out from the rest of the mansion, and two nurses putter about, one in black and one in white, each missing an eye, wheezing and coughing while the stench of bleach follows them. The Mysterious Objects are a wheelchair, the mists outside, the medicine cabinet, and the beds. Get too close to the wheelchair and the two nurses will push you into it. “You must be scared, but not to worry, we will care for you.” They approach with a syringe that will rob the use of the Bride’s legs, confining her to the wheelchair for good. Peer out into the mists outside and the Bride will see two figures, one standing still and another in a wheelchair trying to race away; a shot rings out when the still shadow raises its arm, and the figure in the wheelchair stops and is wheeled out of view.
An especially notable bit of book design: every room is accompanied by art to show what it looks like. Aside from each piece actually looking great, that’s an awesome tool for the Groundskeeper and a great prop to show the players (provided you want to gift them with knowledge rather than letting their imaginations run amok; I can see the benefit to both).
Should you open the door and grab the Book of Rooms? If you’re planning to run Bluebeard’s Bride, I’d say definitely. It doesn’t have the ‘even people not interested in playing’ appeal that the Book of Lore has, because it’s entirely focused on content for use in the game, but that content is top notch. You could run multiple games of Bluebeard’s Bride and still not cover every room in the Book. You could simply use it as inspiration, and even if you use material right out of the Book you still have great creative freedom as Groundskeeper thanks to half of the horrors behind Mysterious Objects being left up to you. So, basically, it takes care of one of the hardest parts of being a Groundskeeper without robbing you of the best part.
Thanks to our own Aki for getting the ball rolling on this one, and thanks to Mark D. Truman, Dakota Davis, and Marissa Kelly of Magpie Games for getting back to us about reviewing Bluebeard’s Bride, including review copies of the Book of Lore and the Book of Rooms.
Like what Cannibal Halfling Gaming is doing and want to help us bring games and gamers together? First, you can tell your friends about us! You could travel through one of our fine and elegantly crafted links to DriveThruRPG which, thanks to our Affiliate partnership with them, gets us funds to get more games to review! Finally, you can support us directly on Patreon, which lets us cover costs, pay our contributors, and save up for projects. Thanks for reading!
Header image is by Rebecca Yanovskaya, from Chapter 2 of the Bluebeard’s Bride core book, copyright Magpie Games.