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Author Topic: [My Life with Master] Hell and heresy  (Read 3134 times)
Ron Edwards
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« on: October 01, 2003, 10:33:59 AM »

Hello,

Last spring, I ran a session of My Life with Master with the campus club, using a pre-print version of the game. A week ago, following our meeting which included games of Haven: City of Violence and Dark Fantasy (a student's in-development home-brew), they got to see the book version, and the cry went up - we're playing this next. Accept no substitutes. Never mind that I'm already playing in another MLWM game (see [My Life with Master] Black ooze and babies) or that I'm working up prep for about ten independent games I haven't tried yet.

So we played last night. Some folks split off to play Dungeoneer, and I ran MLWM for three players, one of whom is very experienced with games like The Pool and Trollbabe, and the other two being new to table-top role-playing. These two were not the same as the folks who played Haven with me last week, but yet more newcomers.

Consensus? Outstanding. The two new players knew exactly what to do, and the relatively formal turn structure worked perfectly to make sure everyone kind of spiralled inwards toward a confrontation with the Master.

Let's see: I asked that we keep the Master and the Minions relatively simple, not as nuanced and subtle as we'd done in the spring. Here's what they came up with:

Ludwig von Totemier, a defrocked priest who wanted to open up and unleash Hell in revenge upon, well, everyone. The players wanted to make sure that we all understood that his transgressions prior to his demotion were relatively slight; he'd become bonkers and hellish since then. He wants fear and worship from the clergy (Outsiders) and needs the blood of the innocent for his attempts to open Hell. We set Reason at 3 and Fear at 2; this is the first time I've played with Reason higher than Fear, and we did so in the interests of the limited time available.

The Minions
1. Ramos, whose exceptional smell can identify the innocent except if the target is in a crowd; who is crippled and lame except when confronted with weapons
2. Krut, who can take on animal shape except when in town; who is hideous to behold unless seen in reflection (the newcomer-player thought this up on his own)
3. Marek, who can kill anyone except those who bear him no ill-will; who cannot speak unless he is unseen [for color, the player also made Marek leprous and heavily bandaged]

To summarize, this session was a furious Love-hunt. They overture'd like fiends, in part, I think, because I played Ludwig so nastily from the outset. About the point when he'd patted Krut and told him he was his favorite, and then ordered Ramos to climb the stairs to receive his orders, the players hated Ludwig with an abiding passion. I exacerbated this by having Connections, when plausible, either beg for help or offer to help the Minion. When Marek and Ramos finally fulfilled the requirements for Endgame and Marek defied him, all the players instantly threw in their dice to help kill Ludwig rather than take scenes of their own. [By the way, I didn't use the Innocents rules option; the term "innocent" was just Color during play.]

I was especially impressed by newcomer #1 playing Ramos as the most snivelling, low-self-esteem little puppet imaginable, to the point where I feared for the player's own mental state, then turning it around in two outstanding dialogues with Connections. Talk about an untrammeled sense of dramatic timing, with no prompting. Newcomer #2 also pulled out a great romance with a Connection, made all the more wracking when it turned out that his Minion was constrained to commit suicide at the end.

It was a very church-y story, involving a boys' choir and a number of ecclesiastical characters, including an Inquisitor brought in as a Horror Revealed who unfortunately didn't get a chance to affect the story much (but with a higher Fear score certainly would have). Ramos was integrated into the townsfolk and became a blacksmith's apprentice, Krut killed himself by throwing himself into the maw of Hell to foil the Master's final attempts at his goal (leaving the girl weeping), and Marek's player had the choice between suicide and integrating into the town, deciding on the latter as a twist on an Epilogue that seemed to be the former. I was mildly disappointed that they did manage to prevent Ludwig from beating Father Cristophe to death with a crucifix, but you can't have everything.

Marek's player was the experienced one, and his More than Human brings up an interesting rules-point. I'm experiencing the same thing with my character Augustin in the Babies/Ooze game. When Marek killed someone using his More than Human, he doesn't have to roll for Violence and hence gains no Self-Loathing; the same applies to Augustin and Villainy based on terror. This is very interesting and in the case of the game last night, played out in two ways. In the first way, when ordered to kill a tavernkeeper he didn't know, Marek had to goad the guy using Villainy and thus did gain Self-Loathing, in order to use his More than Human killing ability. The player and I grinned at each other; this matched his vision of the character perfectly. In the second way, when Marek considered confronting a mob (and could legitimately be considered to have ill-will against the Master and Minions), the question was whether he could simply slaughter them all. That didn't happen, as it turned out, but it interested me to consider how much latitude and scale of effect a Minion with a More than Human of this sort could accomplish. "Anyone" in the description suggests "singly," giving the rest of the mob scope for retaliation or escape, but that seems like a tough point to call right in the thick of play.

The other interesting thing about these More than Human descriptions is that the character is curiously innocent about the activities in question. Augustin, for instance, gained Self-Loathing when he convinced a Connection that it was all right to come to the Master's mansion; even though he was plotting to help the person escape as soon as possible, he knew it was wrong to do in the first place. But he gained no Self-Loathing for terrorizing a family; he literally can't see that it's wrong when he thinks it's in the educational interest of the children involved. I find this to be a very powerful aspect of the rules, rather than an exploitable glitch. The characters do gain Self-Loathing in other (and often related ways), so it's not a Get Out of Jail Free card. And they are actually made somewhat more poignant as tools of the Master, in the sense that he knows precisely how these destructive More than Human descriptions are useful to him, but the Minions kind of don't.

Ah! Another point. It was not clear to me until recently that a given Minion will never have more than one Horror Revealed per game. The Horror Revealed applies only when Self-Loathing rises higher than Reason, which can only happen once per Minion. Subsequent values are irrelevant, as Self-Loathing cannot decrease and Reason does not change. In this game, the two Horrors Revealed played a fine role in pushing the game into a roiled-up context around the town, right about halfway through.

Here are some rules questions that cropped up.

ONE
As I mentioned before, the other two Minions aided Marek in killing the Master. So everyone was rolling. One player asked whether all three of the bonus dice could be applied, one for each character ... I'd been pretty generous with the bonus dice already, and frankly a few scenes had given me (and I think the other players) genuine shivers, so they'd seen the power of the Sincerity die. I decided, yes, they could. Thus clarified, each player whipped up a good Intimacy, Desperation, and Sincerity approach for the climactic roll, which, thus boosted, did wax Ludwig good.

Now: clearly the Sincerity die in this case was calculated rather than spontaneous. But I will say the player did a bang-up job, with a lot of attention to Marek as a character (pulled the bandages from his face, e.g.). Also, the Intimacy die was definitely a bit of a stretch, as it was not being used manipulatively, but Krut did have his romantic Connection right there in the scene and was protecting her with his body, hence he was intimate toward someone.

What do people think? Would denying two of the three dice in the first place be preferable? Technically, only Marek's player had a task (killing Ludwig), and the others only helped. Would denying the Intimacy die based on the non-manipulative context be preferable? Or was I according with the rules' admonition not to be a "discouraging tightwad" with the Bonus dice?

TWO
How about when a Minion successfully defies the Master in a physical context, but does not yet fulfill the requirements for Endgame? Near the end of the game, Marek successfully refused to bow down before Ludwig (while Krut whimpered and grovelled), in the crucifix-beating scene. I could tell the player really really wanted to have Marek attack the Master, but he also respected the structural constraints of the game and wanted to see how the rules bore this out. What to do? There are no rules, I think, for having the Master physically chastise a Minion and inflict Weariness on him, which was more or less my first choice as the GM.

As it turned out, by the rules as I understand them, Ludwig was free to issue another command, and unless Marek fled or obeyed it, could continue doing so until the dice finally went his way. The player kind of blinked - and then said, "That works!" The point being that Marek really wanted to kill Ludwig, but simply couldn't imagine that it was really possible despite his defiance ... hence he'd stand there in dumb, wretched, trembling defiance until a command finally and inevitably hit (as the player didn't want him to flee). That's what we did, and the player managed to get an Overture on his next scene with the brave-but-nigh-doomed Father Cristophe, putting him over the lip of Endgame requirements.

Oh, incidentally, I didn't permit Marek to use his More than Human in killing Ludwig, but rather the player rolled according to the appropriate equation. This was acceptable to the player and as it happened didn't even come up as a possibility except in my head, during play.

Anyway, that's it for that game. As I say, it was very churchy; Ramos became a blacksmith's apprentice but also joined the choir, Marek entered holy orders, and Krut gave up his life to save others from Hell. Both priests in the story were very positive characters except for the Inquisitor who didn't end up affecting the story much.

Best,
Ron
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jburneko
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« Reply #1 on: October 01, 2003, 11:10:01 AM »

"I was mildly disappointed that they did manage to prevent Ludwig from beating Father Cristophe to death with a crucifix, but you can't have everything."

It's phrases like this in actual play reports that make me chuckle with glee whenever I think about this game.  God, I'm so disturbed.

Uh, anyway, this caught my eye:

"It was not clear to me until recently that a given Minion will never have more than one Horror Revealed per game. The Horror Revealed applies only when Self-Loathing rises higher than Reason, which can only happen once per Minion. Subsequent values are irrelevant, as Self-Loathing cannot decrease and Reason does not change."

Are you sure this is right?

1) Horror Revealed is based on "Self-Loathing > Love Plus Reason".  Since Love is an increasing score it's possible for Love plus Reason to surpass Self-Loathing and then for Self-Loathing to catch back up again.

2) The book says, "The resolution of the current scene is roleplayed just as if Self-loathing were gained, but Self-loathing actually remains
the same..."  So even IF Love were a constant score Self-Loathing ceilings at Love plus Reason thus trigering Horror Revealed scenes every subsequent time Self-Loathing would be gained.

Are you sure you weren't thinking of Being Captured?   Being Captured happens on Weariness > Reason.  So, yes, Weariness is ever increasing and Reason is fixed, so this only ever happens once.

Jesse
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: October 01, 2003, 11:19:14 AM »

Hi Jesse,

Actually, I think you have the rules right and I don't. I seem to be progressing from Misunderstanding #1 to Misunderstanding #2 to Maybe Understanding.

Looking over my notes, I see that #2 originates with my rules-summary entry, "Self-Loathing rises higher than Reason" for Horror Revealed. Therein lies the problem (without checking the book while typing).

Best,
Ron
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #3 on: October 01, 2003, 12:19:45 PM »

We've always played it that any gain of Self-Loathing that increases the total beyond Love+Reason causes a Horror Revealed instead of an increase in SL. Caused five HRs in a row last game.

Also, we ruled that just because the player doesn't have to roll for Villainy or Violence that they still get the results from it. Like:

1) Make attempt
2) Normally roll, but in this case auto succeed
3) get the appropriate result (in this case Self-Loathing every time).

This is in part what lead to the 5 HRs as well. Of course, the player was also having his character going around attacking all sorts of folks, even when the Master wasn't telling him to do so. :-)

Anyhow, I'd be interested in clarifications from Paul.

Mike
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #4 on: October 01, 2003, 05:46:21 PM »

Hey guys,

That Horror Revealed rule went through numerous rephrasings throughout my writing and copyediting...and I thought I'd nailed it. Poop.

It should probably read more like this:
    "If ever the result of a roll would increase a minion's Self-loathing to a value greater than Love plus Reason, or if the minion's Self-loathing is already greater than Love plus Reason, due perhaps to the death of a Connection, a revelation of horror and consequences in the environment is triggered instead.

    The resolution of the current scene is roleplayed just as if Self-loathing were gained, but Self-loathing actually remains the same, and the minion misses his next scene."[/list:u]And regarding auto-successes, I personally envision More thans as super-natural, in the very hyphenated sense of the word. They are so deeply part of a minion's essential nature that exercising them carries no physical or psychological consequence.

    Paul
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: October 02, 2003, 05:17:26 AM »

Hi Paul,

That phrasing still doesn't work well for me, at least insofar as I'm understanding the rule at all.

I see two separate issues to address, though.

#1. A Minion may, as Mike describes, continuously perform acts which typically increase Self-Loathing. By the rules, then, this Minion will alternate between scenes of rotten behavior and scenes of Horror Revealed. I suspect Mike actually revels in this play-practice, but that's beside the point. The real point is that this is the extreme opposite approach to MLWM from "eventually defy the Master."

I don't really consider that a bad thing. I suppose if every player does it, then you end up with a gore-horror fest over which the Master reigns supreme. I guess that's all right, although I wouldn't mind seeing some sort of Endgame or closing-point based on those numbers. ("If every Minion's Self-Loathing equals Love + Reason, and if every Minion has produced a Horror Revealed, then ..." but I dunno. That's off the top of my head and may represent an epicycle.)

#2. The actual phrasing. I think you're "packing" way much. There are clearly two ways to get the Horror Revealed: (a) if your Self-Loathing equals Love + Reason, and you successfully do some Violence and Villainy; (b) if you lose some Love through a Connection's death and suddenly discover that your Self-Loathing is greater than Love + Reason.

The nuance for (a) is that once you've had a Horror Revealed, you might get a bunch of Love, and then conceivably climb your Self-Loathing upwards and do it again.

The nuance for (b) is that it's not clear what to do with the numbers. Do you drop Self-Loathing to equal Love + Reason? That doesn't seem right at all. Do you leave it "up there"? In which case, clarifying whether this triggers the Horror Revealed scene after scene is very important (I suspect not based on the "rises" phrasing, but I'm not sure.)

I suggest really parsing all this out sentence by sentence, concept by concept, and numbers by numbers, rather than providing a single basic principle. There's just too much going on with this rule.

Best,
Ron
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #6 on: October 02, 2003, 06:22:09 AM »

Hey Ron,

(b) if you lose some Love through a Connection's death and suddenly discover that your Self-Loathing is greater than Love + Reason.

Not true. The loss of a Connection, regardless of how high your Self-loathing might be, does not trigger a Horror Revealed.

What my rephrasing says is that as long as your Self-loathing is less than Love plus Reason, it can increase as the consequence of a dice roll. Any other time an increase is called for by a dice roll, The Horror Revealed happens instead.

The mechanical purpose of The Horror Revealed is to retain a level of uncertainty for the outcomes of Violent and Villainous acts performed by a minion. It caps Self-loathing and can dramatically shift the focus of attention away from the PC if the player allows the situation to go un-addressed. Bluntly, get some Connections, and get some Love, or be prepared to have half as many scenes with your character as the other players. Do you really think every member of a play group might choose that?

Paul
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GB Steve
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« Reply #7 on: October 02, 2003, 07:02:24 AM »

We used the same reasoning as you mentioned above for Horror Revealed but although we left Self-Loathing at the level greater than Love + Reason, it's not clear whether this is the right hting to do.

A problem we had was that there was a danger that the PCs could not defeat the master as when I challenged him my self-loathing was very high and the other minions could not contribute much love. With my weariness rising there was a real danger of stalemate.

What happens then? Would my PC be captured, defusing the end-game? Or something else?
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #8 on: October 02, 2003, 09:59:25 AM »

Quote
#1. A Minion may, as Mike describes, continuously perform acts which typically increase Self-Loathing. By the rules, then, this Minion will alternate between scenes of rotten behavior and scenes of Horror Revealed. I suspect Mike actually revels in this play-practice, but that's beside the point. The real point is that this is the extreme opposite approach to MLWM from "eventually defy the Master."

I don't really consider that a bad thing. I suppose if every player does it, then you end up with a gore-horror fest over which the Master reigns supreme.


LOL.

Um, to be clear, it was Ryan who had the miscreant character. I do admit that I was enjoying it, but in part that's because Ryan was squirming whenever it happened. Why would he commit mayhem when he knew that the outcome would be Horror Revealed's that he dreaded narrating? He was going for becoming the Master.

See, at some point, he and I were neck and neck in the race for killing the Master. Then one of his big Connections died, putting him way back (actually, from a tactical POV not all that far). Anyhow, he decided to take that as a cue to change his tactics, and go for the ending in which he arose as the new dark force. To do so, he had to kill off his remaining contacts.

So, in fact, the Horror Revealed simply slowed down what would otherwise have been a dramatic descent. As it turned out, I got to the Master before he could get everyone. So, during the epilogue, Josh kept throwing villagers and wolves, etc. at him. Violence checks that he'd automatically win, and then have to narrate another Horror Revealed. Which, as I said, delighted me no end. :-)

And Paul the wording should be something like: If, after a roll SL is increased to a level higher than Love plus Reason, then it is reduced by one, and the player loses his next scene, having to instead narrate a horror revealed. If SL was not increased, no HR occurs.

Unless I'm still misinterpereting the intent. :-)

BTW, we missed the part about losing your scene. We were playing a bit fast and loose with scene order anyhow. But, had we been using that, I think there would only have been 3 HRs or so.

Mike
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