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Author Topic: [My Life With Master] Lord Blackwell  (Read 2882 times)
Ola J.
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Posts: 9


« on: September 10, 2003, 03:48:44 PM »

Hi.

 In my first ever thread in my first ever post at the Forge (here  ) I asked a question about My Life With Master, and got some every good answers. As I said towards the end of that thread, I set up a session with two of my RPG buddies, and we just finished it about two hours ago. It went pretty well, but I have some observations and a few questions.

 The set-up went very well, I think. One of my players read the review of MLWM on RPG.net yesterday, while my other player didn't know anything about it apart what little I had told him. Both were intrigued though, and liked the prospect of trying something new and different. I explained them a bit about the themes, ideas and rules of the game, mentioning a few Master/Minion concepts along the way, and then we started making our Master. Starting a bit slow, we bandied around some concepts, and eventually Stein V. mentioned London and Jack the Ripper, and we tried to make something out of that. What we ended up with were:

 Lord Nero Archibald Blackwell, known around the seedier parts of London as "The Rat King", an outcast from the Golden Dawn, bent on unlocking the secrets of Immortality and proving his worth to his former colleagues in the occult. For that purpose he needed very specific body parts from very specific victims, who had drunk water from a certain, spiked waterpost and who were killed and butchered with surgical precision. A Brain - Feeder/Collector, in the terms of the game.

 His Minions were:

 Samuel Frost (played by Stein V.): a demon summoned by Lord Blackwell, who had the appearance of a charming human male, except when moonlight shone upon his face and his hideous demonic form was revealed, and who could not kill any human being except when in demon form. He was the one who had to perform the hideous murders the Master needed, but he really wanted to be free and join normal human society.

 Robert (played by Haavard): the bastard son of Lord Blackwell, desperate to get recognition and approval from his father. To that end, he had studied alchemy and gained the ability to move undetected (and almost magically) through shadows, except when seen by a child, but he was hampered by an uncontrollable stutter, except when in the presence of something dead.

 Making the Master and the Minions was the most fun part of the session, I think, but we had some problems with the More than/Less thans, especially Roberts Less Than, which quite frankly is ripped off of something I found on the Forge somewhere. Also, I'm not sure about Samuelís More/Less being sort of interdependent - it seemed like a neat idea at the time, but it didn't really come up in play a lot, so I'm not sure how it'll work out, or if it's a good idea at all.

 Fear and Reason were set (arbitrarily) at 4 and 3.

 Then we started playing, and got through 16 scenes in about an hour. I started out with a couple of "easy" scenes, ordering the minions to a) spike the well and b) steal the Necronomicon from the local library. Both tasks were accomplished easily with Villainy Rolls, and I feel they were quite void of conflict and interest. Oh well. The players said afterwards that they served quite well as an introduction to actual play.

 I tried to ramp up the next few scenes by ordering Robert to lure one of his contacts to a place where Samuel could kill him, but the butcher had a lucky break as Samuel managed to resist the order (the butcher being a contact for Robert as the butchery was one of the few places he could talk normally).

 The first few Overtures didn't really work out, I think, partially because out of three, two turned out as Ties. I think the players were a bit unsure as to how these worked, and I think a blew it in framing interesting situations. Next time I think I'll insist that the players frame these to a larger extent, and that they should have something interesting in mind before they're allowed to call for them.

 Then I had the Master ordering Samuel to fetch the brain of one of his Contacts, Little Orphan Jim, and even though Stein V. went for (and got) the Sincerity dice, the Master succeeded in this.

 We ended the game (for the night) just as Robert dragged little orphan Jim into an alley, terrified by the frightening monster his friend Mr. Frost had turned into.  Samuel was in the building next door, presenting a gift of jam and bread to Jimís little sister Jenny (who was created on the spur as a contact for Robert). She couldn't wait to show her brother what the strange, stuttering man had brought her.

 We all thought this was an interesting experiment, and fully intend to pick it up again sometime soon. I think I had some problems with being aggressive enough in my scene framing, as almost half of them sort of went nowhere. I'm also insecure as to how long each scene should last; the way we played tonight the scenes lasted from about a minute to about five minutes, with most of them being in the shorter end of that spectrum, and that seems a tad short to me. What would be considered an "average" scene length you think? I'm also thinking that I should have taken a few more minutes off between the "creation" part and the "play" part in order to think up a few more interesting scene ideas before we began proper play, how do you people normally handle this?

 A few more questions:

 Are Minions allowed to do things like Overtures between being issued (and failing to resist) a command and trying to complete it? Or I should I frame directly to the scene where the Villainy/Violence is due to be committed when that players turn come around again?

 Can a player gain any bonus dice in a Violence scene? (I ruled no during the game, as it seemed to me that Intimacy was incompatible with killing - although that seems very wrong to me now that I think about it. It's really scarily compatible, isn't it?)

 Villainy is very easy to succeed at compared to Violence. Why? Violence seems a lot more desireable in terms of intensity to me.

 Oh, and how aggressive is "aggressive scene framing" really supposed to be? I've read a couple of things about it here, but if there are any threads or articles that explore it in more detail I'd be very happy to get a pointer.

 I'll point Stein V. and Haavard to this thread and ask them to comment if they feel like it, and I'll probably post again once we play this some more.

 BTW, I still think it's a beautiful game in every way.
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Ola J. Joergensen
Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #1 on: September 10, 2003, 08:32:53 PM »

A couple of quick answers. You're session sounded pretty good, overall, and the second I think will improve.
Quote from: Ola J.

 Are Minions allowed to do things like Overtures between being issued (and failing to resist) a command and trying to complete it? Or I should I frame directly to the scene where the Villainy/Violence is due to be committed when that players turn come around again?
I find that in play, this gets worked out by negotiation. It happens a lot, but if players arepushing their luck, the GM closes the door on this sort of thing. It's the GM's job to set pacing, so don't let them get away with requests that slow things down. OTOH, if it sounds cool, do the overture scene. You can also control a player who's "out in front" this way.

Quote
Can a player gain any bonus dice in a Violence scene? (I ruled no during the game, as it seemed to me that Intimacy was incompatible with killing - although that seems very wrong to me now that I think about it. It's really scarily compatible, isn't it?)
Yes, scarily. We had a female minion embrace a character just before plunging a letter opener into his back. :-)

Quote
Villainy is very easy to succeed at compared to Violence. Why? Violence seems a lot more desireable in terms of intensity to me.
It is more desireable. So keeping it scarcer prevents the game from being all intense, which desensitizes. Villany is fun, too.

Quote
Oh, and how aggressive is "aggressive scene framing" really supposed to be? I've read a couple of things about it here, but if there are any threads or articles that explore it in more detail I'd be very happy to get a pointer.
"Samuel makes his way to the library and breaks in. He's now standing before the book ready to snatch it up when the old librarian stumbles in on him." Think movies. The player should only be required to do the dialog and action scenes. The rest is the GM's role as director. OTOH, if the player wants a hand in framing, that's cool, too. Just no talk about which streets the character takes to get to the library, or any of that sort of stuff.

Mike
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Bryant
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« Reply #2 on: September 12, 2003, 04:04:30 AM »

You might also be interested in this thread, which is some of my group's actual play -- we ran into some of the same problems you did. Paul's advice therein is very valuable.[/url]
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Ola J.
Member

Posts: 9


« Reply #3 on: September 12, 2003, 05:15:27 AM »

Thanks, Mike and Bryant; that clears up a few things for me, especially the framing bit. I guess I didn't do a too good job there, but this also had something to do with my players (especially Stein V.) fighting the de-protagonism (uh, I have no idea if I spelled that word correctly) that MLwM implies, both in the relative weakness of the minions and in the scene-framing bit. In the beginning, he was using more "gamist"* approach to the scenes, wanting to know tactical information, describing his preparations etc. I stopped the game a couple of times to try to explain the more "narrativist"* appraoch we had to take, and after a while that worked out pretty well.

 Really want to play it through to the endgame, still, and next time I'll frame the scenes better.

 It's just that this is new to me (and my players), you know, and I got so uncertain after a while that I ended the session just as it was begining to get rolling. I had this feeling that I was doing something "wrong", but the more I think about it I'm beginning to believe that I did quite a few things right. Live and learn etc. etc.

* I'm putting that word in brackets because I'm not sure if I'm using it correctly.
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Ola J. Joergensen
Bryant
Member

Posts: 51


« Reply #4 on: September 12, 2003, 05:50:00 AM »

Quote from: Ola J.
Thanks, Mike and Bryant; that clears up a few things for me, especially the framing bit. I guess I didn't do a too good job there, but this also had something to do with my players (especially Stein V.) fighting the de-protagonism (uh, I have no idea if I spelled that word correctly) that MLwM implies, both in the relative weakness of the minions and in the scene-framing bit. In the beginning, he was using more "gamist"* approach to the scenes, wanting to know tactical information, describing his preparations etc. I stopped the game a couple of times to try to explain the more "narrativist"* appraoch we had to take, and after a while that worked out pretty well.


Please keep us posted as to how it works out -- the de-protagonism was one of the barriers we had to deal with as well, and I'm not sure we're going to manage to get a second session in. :(
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Valamir
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« Reply #5 on: September 12, 2003, 06:30:58 AM »

Ok, I'm sure Paul, if he's read this, is pulling his hair out right now.  MLWM has zero....ZEROOOOOO deprotagonizing elements.  Being a protagonist does not mean being the most powerful character in the story, ergo "percieved weakness" is not a matter of protagonization.  Nor does "being able to do absolutely anything I want" have anything to do with protagonism.

Protagonism means that the choices you make as a player for your character have meaningful impact on the themes of the story.

Far from being "deprotagonizing" MLWM is one of the most powerful protanist ENHANCING games yet created...precisely because the ONLY choices a player can make for his character are those that have profound thematic impact.

The game doesn't limit player options willy nilly, it carefully prunes out all of the choices a player might make that are utterly irrelevant to the point of play.  

The only choices you can make are those that are thematically, and the only people who can make thematically important choices are you they player.  That's powerful stuff.

Outside the comfort zone of "when I'm playing my character I'm the hero and can attempt anything to do anything I want and go anywhere I want" yes.  But not in any way shape or form "de protagonizing".
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Bryant
Member

Posts: 51


« Reply #6 on: September 12, 2003, 06:43:07 AM »

Quote from: Valamir
Ok, I'm sure Paul, if he's read this, is pulling his hair out right now.  MLWM has zero....ZEROOOOOO deprotagonizing elements.  Being a protagonist does not mean being the most powerful character in the story, ergo "percieved weakness" is not a matter of protagonization.  Nor does "being able to do absolutely anything I want" have anything to do with protagonism.

Protagonism means that the choices you make as a player for your character have meaningful impact on the themes of the story.

Far from being "deprotagonizing" MLWM is one of the most powerful protanist ENHANCING games yet created...precisely because the ONLY choices a player can make for his character are those that have profound thematic impact.

The game doesn't limit player options willy nilly, it carefully prunes out all of the choices a player might make that are utterly irrelevant to the point of play.  


Absolutely. I agree that the game does not possess deprotagonizing elements. However, I think that the written expression of the game may encourage deprotagonizing play.

Put yourself in the shoes of someone who has not had the benefit of playtesting the game, or talking with Paul about intent and GM techniques, and so on. Pretend you're one of those people who read the review on RPG.net and picked up MLWM on a whim.

Is is possible that the game as presented may encourage a certain tendency towards deprotagonization? Note that two groups have experienced that problem independently.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #7 on: September 12, 2003, 08:39:39 AM »

Hi there,

I think the issue has to do with identifying Task Effectiveness and In-Game Status with protagonism. And that, in turn, arises from previous play experiences in which these two things were (a) exactly how players are rewarded for "success," which is to say, the "point of play"; and (b) exactly how GMs railroaded these players, by reducing these things in practical, local instances (scenes).

Given experiences of this kind, which I maintain describes the vast, vast majority of so-called "story" play in the hobby, people will very justifiably look for game systems in which their characters are very effective from the get-go and have no obligations to any other characters, most notably GM-played characters. Clearly, this is related to the "turtle" problem as well, especially in its most common form of the bad-ass assassin character whose player refuses to have him do anything.

What My Life with Master does, is provide a means to protagonism based strictly on relationships - both the primary relationship with the Master and with Connections. The player has complete control over the Minion's personal, moral approach to these things, and that's going to be a big deal when Endgame comes.

The subject matter for the game is so instantly accessible to most people, that they understand the above concept without a shred of doubt or defensiveness. I think the only people who will have the stated "problem" with the game are so-called "experienced" role-players, who habitually overlook any particular game's subject matter as mere context for their already-established, largely-dysfunctional habits of play.

Best,
Ron
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Valamir
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« Reply #8 on: September 12, 2003, 08:48:03 AM »

Quote from: Bryant

Is is possible that the game as presented may encourage a certain tendency towards deprotagonization? Note that two groups have experienced that problem independently.


No they haven't.

What two groups have experienced independently are problems that stem from their own assumptions and preconceptions about what exploring a character in an RPG is supposed to look like.  

Those problems have NOTHING to do with deprotagonization.  You are misapplying that term.
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Bryant
Member

Posts: 51


« Reply #9 on: September 12, 2003, 09:21:26 AM »

OK.

I believe I've explicitly said that I recognize the issues arising in my session were caused by my own preconceptions. You don't need to use ALL CAPS in order to drive that point home. I understand it. When I said "encourage a certain tendency," I should have said "encourage pre-existing tendencies in some groups." I apologize for my lack of clarity; I put that poorly.

I am interested in the question of how the rules and my preconceptions interacted. Ron's post gave me a lot to chew on; I appreciate it. (So did Paul's posts in my actual play thread.) I want to know what it was about MLWM that triggered some of my bad habits. This doesn't and shouldn't imply faults in MLWM.
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Valamir
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« Reply #10 on: September 12, 2003, 11:00:25 AM »

Sorry Bryant.  I did not mean for my reply to sound snippy.  I did mean to highlight however that the issues you are noticeing (which I am not intending to deny you've experienced) are not issues of protagonism or deprotagonism.  They are issues...they aren't related to that word.

Those terms have some specific meanings and Paul happens to be a champion of the anti-deprotagonism brigade (how's that for a double negative) which made the use of the word in this thread quite ironic.
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 10459


« Reply #11 on: September 12, 2003, 11:55:16 AM »

Bryant,

The real question may be whether or not a text has the responsibility to try to overcome an established game group's methods of play. That is, if Ron and Ralph are correct, then it's the adherence to these traditional modes of play despite the text that is the problem. Which means that, at some level, the text fails to speak to you in a convincing way. Again, if that's true, the question is whether or not you can blame the text for not being convincing enough.

OTOH

It's true that it's observably not the problem for everyone that the text causes players to feel deprotagonized (as it were). That is, many people play it, and instantly "get it". But, that said, it may in fact be that we who've been successful are programed to play these games successfully. So, in fact, it could theoretically be that the game doesn't deliver it's message well, and we who are familiar with the style that works for MLwM are just filling in the blanks.

The problem is that we're all biased here, and can really only speculate. I mean we say "It works for us, so it must be your bias that's the problem", and you say, "well it doesn't work for me, so it must be your bias that makes it properly playable."

Does anyone feel that they can be objective in this analysis? I know that I feel way to close to the game to be objective, personally.

Other than that, we can only look at brass tacks. When did you feel that the deprotagonization was happening? Can we find something in the text that you were ignoring?

In any case, even if our side were to determine that it was Bryant's biases at "fault", the original question remains. Does the game have an obligtion as a rules set to do a better job of getting "traditional" players to understand it's Creative Agenda? To what extent? Is the game bad if it doesn't? It's an interesting question, IMO.

Mike
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #12 on: September 12, 2003, 01:23:53 PM »

Hi there,

I wouldn't mind setting aside any question of a "fault" entirely. We can all address just how, when presenting the game to others, to communicate the potential for player-input and the importance of the players' points of view as effectively as possible.

Best,
Ron
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Ola J.
Member

Posts: 9


« Reply #13 on: September 13, 2003, 06:38:08 PM »

Oops! It seems that my application of the term "de-protagonization" was very miss-applied. As Ron Edwards suggested, it was a case of Stein V. being concerned about his minion's Task Effectiveness - understandably, since he's used to having a gamist angle on play. Most of this misunderstanding has to do with the fact that only I had read the rules, and I probably did a poor job of comunacating how the game is supposed to work. Stein V. borrowed my copy of the rules after the game, and I'm very curios to hear what he thinks about it after he's read it. I should also point out that after a couple of "time outs", where I explained that his "gamist" behaviour wasn't appropraite for the game he did a pretty good job of playing his minion. (And I think he enjoyed it too).

 So, for my group, it was more a case of poor communication than anything else.

 (Wether there is a "fault" with the text itself is an perhaps a moot question; I can only testify to the fact that for me, some parts of it felt under-explained. If it hadn't been for the forums here at The Forge where I could read about other peoples experience with the game and ask the question about "the Horror Revealed", I probably wouldn't have gathered the courage to actually try running the game.)
 
 I suspect that the key here is the Endgame; I didn't really talk about it or explain it too much, since I knew that we wouldn't get to it in one session anyway. The very fact that, eventually, one of them will get to kill the Master sort of drives the point home; they are the protagonists of the story.
 The story of not only how they kill the Master, but also WHY they did it.
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Ola J. Joergensen
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