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Independent Game Forums => Half Meme Press => Topic started by: Earthling on October 27, 2007, 02:13:25 AM

Title: [MLwM] Questions about game mechanics
Post by: Earthling on October 27, 2007, 02:13:25 AM
We finally got around to playing a three-player My Life with Master session yesterday, and while it went pretty well, the rules mechanics aroused several questions.

First of all (I was playing the master), my minions never refused one order, because the players thought that it would be a) dumb drama-wise and b) very unlikely, so why even try. The first reason was the bigger one - no-one wanted to willingly remove their characters from a juicy, dramatic scene of fulfilling the master's orders by trying to refuse them. There was a total one (failed) roll to resist the master; the endgame was reached with just common consensus.

This resulted in a very fast creep of Self-Loathing for everyone since they all were fulfilling the Master's orders every other scene, not to mention failing overtures every now and then and aiding each other. A few hours into play, and throwing Violence and Villainy became trivial - why even bother throwing  fear 5 plus self-loathing 7 dice vs. reason 4? This also made resisting the master seem somewhat improbable - the frequent acts of villainy and players aiding each other meant that everyone was on the brink of horror revealed constantly. They increased their Love with an overture - maybe even got a point of Self-Loathing for that - and then necessarily bumped their Self-Loathing up another notch by doing something evil or violent. Thus, with Reason 4, the minion's self-loathing was always about four higher than love, and with fear 5, that meant that even with weariness 0, the Master always rolled some 9 die more while giving orders. Also, there were several times when a player's Connection died, resulting in lost Love, but there's no similar mechanic to lower Self-Loathing ever.

Another question is about the endgame - it seems to me that a minion failing the first few rolls would eventually end up with a negative pool so one die, with the master rolling his total of 10+. I suppose the presence of other minions is there to ensure that this situation can be resolved? But what if they, too, are very weak? And what happens if a minion's weariness grows above reason as a result of the endgame struggle? He gets... captured? The whole "flow" of endgame seems pretty obfuscated for me, perhaps someone would like to explain it better? (In our game, after a general consensus was reached that all the minions were resisting the master, we proceeded straight away to implement epilogues in our shared narrative of how the Master's power is broken and what happens afterward.)

One more thing - my players didn't like the detached feeling of the "Horror Revealed" scenes (i.e. that they only have NPC characters in them), so we decided to play them so that it is the Minion who performs some horrible act upon the Townspeople.

So were we playing this wrong, mechanics-wise? Is it normal for everyone to have maximum Self-Loathing all the time, no gain of Weariness and a seemingly very slim hope of entering Endgame, much less of winning it? Should minions resist the master's commands more? It seemed that the only meaningful rolls after a while were overtures - which were generally made with just one die per side - and acts of villainy/violence against other Minions.

Title: Re: [MLwM] Questions about game mechanics
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on October 27, 2007, 06:05:33 AM
The system tends to encourage polarization in the character's Weariness/Self-Loathing balance - after playing a while any character will likely have one of them high while the other stays down. Self-Loathing is a likelier candidate for this, too. So that is normal.

At first blush it seems to me that you played more or less as the game is supposed to go, except that you might have killed off too many Connections. That is something the GM can't do indiscriminately without stomping the characters down. I don't think the text addresses this directly, but you need to show restraint - only threaten to kill Connections as a climax proposition, and go through with it only after a character utterly fails to protect the Connection. Build up to it through several scenes and you don't even have a dramatic need to do it more than once or twice per game.

As for the end-game, Paul's used to answer that the way you played it is how it's supposed to go: after the players get disgusted with the exercise they'll decide by consensus to end the game and see to the epilogues. It's rather counter-intuitive, but there you have it. I haven't personally had to deal with the situation, as the players in our games have generally had enough Love to support each other into offing the Master when they felt like it.

The most worrying part of your description was the unwillingness of the players to disagree with the Master, really. Neither unlikeliness of success nor dramatic reasons feel like a right reason for not resisting - characters who are not resisting the Master are complicit to his acts, so I have to wonder if the players just didn't hate the Master. You as the GM need to foster some healthy hatred in the players towards the Master for the game to work as a general proposition - it doesn't feel horrorful if the characters are doing the Master's bidding willingly.

One thing you might consider for the future is relaxing your standards of turn order: it seems that you're playing the game with the principle of "one Overture per Mission", but that's far from necessary for the game to work. I have personally gained much better results by letting the players themselves choose how much they want to annoy the Master by tarrying with the Villagers; they can police themselves just fine, and when they don't, the Master can come out with his cane and sort out the stupid ones.

Dice odds: 12 dice versus 4 does not seem so outrageously bad to me. It's an average of 9 vs. 3, which means six points difference. Drop in the Sincerity die and that's 9 vs. 7.5; still to the Master's benefit, but not so much as to make rolling unreasonable, especially as the Sincerity die has a rather high variability. You won't win them all, but if you manage to roll an '8' on the Sincerity, there's a good chance to win. Not that it's ever common for the characters to manage to disobey the Master - it's always rare, and the point of the exercise is as much to roleplay the unwillingness of the minions as to see if they manage to resist this time. Successful resistance now and then will also allow the character to drag himself ahead on the Love/Self-Hatred curve with time, assuming that the GM allows him the extra Overture for basically "skipping over" a mission. So I think there's plenty of reason to roll against the Master even if I'd only win one in five.

Title: Re: [MLwM] Questions about game mechanics
Post by: Paul Czege on October 27, 2007, 07:02:15 AM

It sounds like you had a group that rather reveled in the dark aspects of their characters. Is that accurate?

Tell me about the minions, the Master, and some of the commands you gave that they didn't decide to resist.


Title: Re: [MLwM] Questions about game mechanics
Post by: Paul Czege on October 27, 2007, 07:24:28 AM
Hey Eero,

As for the end-game, Paul's used to answer that the way you played it is how it's supposed to go: after the players get disgusted with the exercise they'll decide by consensus to end the game and see to the epilogues.

I can't imagine ever validating a group just deciding to ignore the endgame sequence and proceed to epilogues. However, it can become obvious after a few rounds of endgame that each of the minions is firmly established in a specific epilogue, and that no additional endgame play will change those outcomes. And at that point it makes sense for a group to take the "Master's fate is sealed" rule as license to cut to the chase, establish how the Master dies at the hands of one of the minions, and move to epilogues. But in that case, the endgame rules have done their job of establishing each of the minions' epilogue constraints.


Title: Re: [MLwM] Questions about game mechanics
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on October 27, 2007, 10:56:33 AM
Correction accepted, that's what I meant by the "exercise". The game-end condition is only skipped after utilizing the Endgame rules to their full extent, not as a replacement to the Endgame.

Other than that, upon rereading, I wasn't the most clear in my last paragraph - what I meant to say is that resisting the Master is one of the few conflicts the player can opt to not take, but it's also the one with no adverse mechanical effects whatsoever for taking it. Therefore it does not really matter if you're only winning 15% of the conflicts (to pick a number) - each success is still one horrible job less you have to worry about, and each gives better odds for you to resist the next time.

Considering the above paragraph it really makes little mechanical sense to forego the resistance, unless you want to do what the Master is asking of you. This is oftentimes a rather big deal in the game: characters go through wary accomodation of the Master, to singular cases of resistance, to full-blown resistance-by-principle, to staunch resistance-for-the-sake-of-my-fellow-men as their relationship with the Master deteriorates. Why the character wants to resist or not resist is much more central and interesting to the game than the supposed dramatic consequences of the character obeying or not obeying. In effect, as the Master is holding all the cards anyway, we as the players are more interested in why and when the characters try to resist than whether the resistance succeeds.

Title: Re: [MLwM] Questions about game mechanics
Post by: Earthling on October 28, 2007, 07:19:46 AM
So, a word or two about the Master and the minions. The Master was one Anthony Bradford, an orphaned twenty-something Brain-Teacher in Victorian-era London. His father had been laughed out of the academic world for presenting his idea of "intellectual natural selection", i.e. that if we mold society to a point where it is the intelligent, not the strong who survive and rule, social perfection is achieved. Sadly, the existing social paradigms hinder this development, so it can't occur naturally. Anthony's Needs were to demonstrate, test out and create situations where his father's theories would be proven/apply, and his Wants were to redeem his father's theories and live up to him. There was more or less only one Outsider, his dead father, although he courted several academics over the course of the game.
The minions were all old servants of Anthony's father - a manservant, a janitor/gardener and a cook, who had raised young Anthony after his parents got killed in an accident. The orders given were along the lines of fetching a Connection's newborn baby (the baby even became a Connection), kidnapping the manservant's 8-year old daughter (a Connection) so that the Master might educate her on his father's theories, persuading a naive country girl to come to the Master's mansion, preparing her for sexual abuse by the Master and eventually using her to destroy the reputation of a local lord by making it seem that the lord had violently raped her. At the end, the scene that triggered our Endgame was when the Master decided to expedite the 8-year old daughter's education by making her hack open the neck of the paralyzed lord who had been brought to the house earlier. At that point, all the minions simply walked out on the Master.

In retrospect, I certainly let them enjoy exploring the mindset of a minion too much; the lack of resistance was most likely a product of "nah, my character wouldn't try to resist that, he's too monstrous and loves the Master too much to do anything yet" and so on. They didn't necessarily enjoy performing the vile acts the minions did, but rather enjoyed trying to get into the head of a character who did things like that. Had I hammered them more with the Master, they probably would've wanted to try to resist for the fact alone that they wouldn't have to hear the Master berate them after the mission.

I actually killed only one Connection carrying one point of love during the entire game, the other Connection was killed by the player. The first connection was for the janitor, an old war veteran who had fought years in India. Another minion persuaded the Connection to come to the mansion, and the janitor himself was ordered to knock him out and lock him in a cage downstairs. Then followed a "cutscene", where the players were present as the Master demonstrated to a horrified visitor how brawn doesn't always win: even though the veteran managed to kill a cougar in a bloody match, he stepped right out of the cage into a trapdoor and got impaled onto spikes - something a smarter man would have avoided. The master then proceeded to shoot the retreating man and kill him, after which he retreated upstairs and the janitor's player decided that there's simply no way the veteran could've survived his wounds. The other death of a Connection was when the cook's player requested a special overture - she went to see a stray cat she had been taking care of (a Connection) with the stolen baby (a Connection, too). The overture was for the baby, and failed, so I described the cat suddenly attacking the baby. The player quite firmly decides that her character violently killed the cat straight after she realized what was happening. The cat carried one Love point.

Thinking back, I'm not sure if the unorthodox "cutscene" severely hurt the game. With my improvisational scene-framing skills a bit rusty, I created the cage battle scene a bit too hastily - the impression delivered was that the trapdoor and the cougar were something that the Master had done if not himself, then at least off-screen by using the Minions. I could've had a lot more meaningful buildup there, plus it was a mistake for the Master to actually kill the escaping man himself.

Also, now that I think of it, there was a special case of resistance. The cook's player (and the manservant minion aiding her) had drugged the aforementioned lord Wellington and the country girl the master had abused and framed the scene so that it looked like Wellington had forced himself upon the poor girl. After this, the manservant's player declared that he would like to make a special kind of Overture ("or something, I don't really know what applies here" to quote the player) to utilize one of his Connections to remove the girl from lord Wellington's bed and take her to a hospital and thus counteract the point of Self-Loathing he had received by helping the cook; this had been his plan all along by going along to help the cook. Lacking anything better, I let him throw the (somewhat difficult) Overture roll, which was successful, and so we described him getting the girl to a hospital, though I ultimately decided that he did get the point of Self-Loathing after all. How would you have done it?

Letting the players to decide how many Overtures the dare take in a row would probably been better, I'll have to consider that. Also, we had to cut the game perhaps a bit short in order to accommodate for a single-session play - we ad-hoc-dropped our values of Fear and Reason by two after playing for several hours to get it all wrapped up earlier, so I don't know if that had any effect.

Finally, the whole process of the end-game framing of scenes seemed a bit counter-intuitive to me. What exactly happens there? What sort of scenes are framed?