I'm going to be running a game of My Life with Master in a couple of weeks at a mini-convention. I've run a couple of games already for friends - the players at the convention won't have played before though. Last time I ran it we played it like this: we made the Master and Minions between us and then went straight in the game. It went Ok but I felt that my imagination really let the game down - I just wasn't able to respond to the players' wishes for scenes quickly enough (or rather, I did respons quickly bu the scenes were a bit dull and got repetitive quickly).
So, what I'm thinking for this upcoming convention game is that I'll generate the Master in advance. This will give me the chance to plot out some interesting scenes, including key locations in the town, the Master's house and even some interesting NPCs. I'd feel much more comfortable running the game this way, I think. I've got a notion that I could even create some Minions in advance.
My question is has anybody done this before and did it work? Will it break the players' immersion in the game too much?
Interested to hear your thoughts!
As someone who's played but not run MLWM, I think I'd miss the fun of creating the master together and I think it would have a negative effect on play during the game. Part of creating the master is figuring out how you fit into the nefarious plot.
I have run Paul's Gencon demo scenario (the one set on the Mediterranean island) three times at cons. Each time has worked brilliantly, with full engagement from the players, and - with a bit of pushing - we got through the full story arc each time.
Pregenerated Master can work fine or fail - the reason for doing the generation with the whole group is that it increases the chances of success to near-certainty levels instead of the crap-shoot you get when the GM tries to create an enticing Master on his lonesome in advance.
My own strategy in this regard has been to do Dracula: I have this Dracula convention scenario that I whip out if I need to get MLwM off the ground quickly. Dracula is familiar to everybody and it's easy to prep some bangs even without knowing the player characters: they're going to be a mixture of gypsies, vampire maids, living servants and Englishmen and women lured to Transylvania. I have the literary background down pat myself, so I've no trouble bringing in suitable snippets of Eastern European culture or van Helsing himself if an Outsider is needed. Easy-peasy to run, really, and most importantly most players will have an immediate emotional connection to Dracula, thus alleviating the lack of a shared Master creation.
One thing I often do with this scenario is that I'll ask the players for input in determining Vlad's scores before we start. For instance, I let them pick whether he'll be a Brain or a... what's that other option in English, again? Beast? Whatever, the point is that I can run any scene I've prepped regardless of whether Dracula's a cold schemer or a lustful monster, it just affects my characterization. Most of the mechanical prep is like that, so no reason not to let the players create their own characters and set some basic facts about Dracula. I also have a set of premade characters that we can use for shorter demos and such. They're also useful with stodgy players who wouldn't ever choose a female character or other clearly vulnerable protagonist for themselves; stodgy gamers often perform best in MLwM with a premade character, because that avoids their character ownership instincts and lets them play the character in a carefree manner.
Ooh, Eero that sounds good. I might consider the Dracula angle - thanks!
Hix, can I get hold of Paul's Mediterranean scenarion somewhere?
The easiest thing to do would be to PM or email Paul. I'm happy to track down some of the advice he sent me about running it, once I get home.
Thanks Steve, I've shot off a message to Paul. :)
This My Life with Dracula idea then: so they're going to kill Dracula!? I like that I think. Eero, how did you bring Van Helsing in as an Outsider? (I'm probably showing my ignorance of the source details there - perhaps I need to re-read Dracula quickly!) I think I could dream up a set of template Minions characters, put them on the table and allow the players to choose. Then I could put down a bunch of interesting NPCs active in the area who players can choose to have a Love relationship with. I could also lay down some names on bits of paper that the players can choose from and put together to form genre-appropriate names (I think that will help to keep the atmosphere appropriately Transylvanian?). In fact, I could even let people choose from a set of More Than/Less Than Human cards too. I suppose what I'm trying to do here is make sure they're sensible. One thing that concerns me with not pre-generating characters is time it would take for me to make sure 6 or 7 players all have decent MtH/LtH phrases.
Do note that 6 or 7 players is a huge number for MLwM. Three or at most four is much more typical, and likely more appropriate.
As for Dracula, my standard premade player characters are thus:
- An English realtor who's travelled to castle Dracula on business. He does not suspect the nature of the good Count, and is in fact unaware that Dracula has been warping his sense of time for months now as he prepares for his nefarious plans in England and plays with this delightfully civilized victim - every morning the poor Englishman wakes up vaguely convinced that he's spent at most a week at the castle, and tonight the good count will at last sign the final papers concerning his estate transactions in England, allowing the realtor to return home. His best relationship at the beginning is to his fiance in England, who he contacts by correspondence, not realizing how worried and even frantic her letters have started to sound.
- A gypsy chief beholden to the Count for sanctuary and the safety of his daughter. The wheels of the gypsy wagons rot on the field near to the Castle, and the tribe is scared witless, but the chief doesn't dare to leave, for he's mortally afraid of the Count and glad to do his bidding to forestall the doom that he knows to be coming. His strongest relationship is to his daughter, naturally.
- A fresh, young vampire bride of the Count. She's confused and her memory is foggy after the long months and years she's spent jailed in the castle dungeons with the rest of the Count's harem. Now that she's finally allowed out, she likely does not remember her previous life as a gypsy queen and the wife of the aforementioned chief. She would do anything to please the Count who gave her this new life. (I should note that I handle the vampiric condition in the gothic style in this scenario - as opposed to modern superhero vampires - so it's an open question whether the soul and person of the human being is still present here at all; it's up to the player to display such spirit if he would.)
I also have a couple of secondary characters, such as townsfolk the characters have relations with. Usually the most important of these is the beatiful gypsy princess daughter of the chief, above - she's Innocent, and it's usually easy to pull player strings by threatening various sorts of fates worse than death on her.
Typical antics in my scenario include having the Count demand of the Englishman that he should break off his English betrothal in favour of staying in Rumania indefinitely among the beastly joys the Count can offer; asking any and all minions to bring the priest of the nearby town to join in midnight revels in the castle; requiring the gypsy chief to provide his daughter for the entertainment of the English guest. These are all rather to the point, mid-game developments, but that's because I usually play this scenario as a demo - it's essentially begun in medias res and finished in an hour or two if allowed to run its course. No reason not to start from the beginning, of course; I seem to remember that the first time MLwM was played from the Finnish text in 2004 was a Dracula scenario, too :D
As for Van Helsing, nothing special to it - he can just appear in the village of Arefu one day, hanging around in the post office or tavern, gathering intelligence about the Count. Could be that the naive old fool gets killed in short order, but if I'm using him as an Outsider (or rather, representative of the western civilization in toto, which is what the Count is fascinated by and fearsome of), then it so happens that the Count does not want to confront this old enemy of his just yet due to the great influence Van Helsing wields in his mind.
Hmm... I probably have some old writeup of this scenario lying around somewhere in English - unless I misremember, I wrote the original for 2006 Essen Spiel. Perhaps I'll find it and post it somewhere.
Eero, thanks so much for all this information. I'm going to take some if these pieces and fit them together with a few of my own ideas, see how that looks. How do you normally specify Dracula's wants and needs? Does having him regularly needing to feed off locals seem too obvious a need? Does he actually want to travel to England?
I've never had Dracula travel to England, but it's certainly a constantly looming possibility in the scenario. I wouldn't hesitate to swap settings mid-run when I run out of ideas for Transylvania if I were to play this thing in multiple-session length, for instance. Harker's fiance Mina could get introduced as more than voicemail, Van Helsing would have even more reason to hang around, Dracula (read: his minions) could tussle with civilization, he could get a new minion out of Renfield or whatshisname (if that one went right, I must conclude that I'm obsessed with this novel)... lots of opportunities.
When I'm running this as a demo I don't bother the players with customizing Wants and Needs and such - those things are there to guide group Master creation, which I'm not doing in a demo anyway (that's why I'm doing Dracula in the first place, right?). Let's see, I'll find Dracula's sheet... here's my default Dracula, although I'll usually have the players make changes to the more interesting bits if we're playing more than a couple of scenes.
Count Dracula, Master
The vampire count is preternaturally vitalized by ingested human blood.
His intense gaze and languid movements are remindful of a great hunter.
Dracula needs young blood to keep up his ancient existence and inhuman appeal.
Forced to face a world on the brink of modernization, the count clings to power.
Demesne: Castle Poena
A medieval battlement Dracula rules by right of conquest, the castle is a memento of his life.
Fearful yet fascinated, the count is determined to master this new world.
A backwards place near castle Poena, mere remnant of Dracula's former domain.
He is Vlad Tepes, Son of the Dragon, ancient ruler of this land and beyond.
It is year 1897, and most of the world is illuminated by the light of Reason.
As can be seen, my default set-up is very obvious and canonical, which I find desirable in a demo scenario. Still, that blood-sucking thing is usually something of a background matter in actual play; I wouldn't be ingenious if I wrote Need: Corruption on that sheet, considering the antics my Dracula gets up to. He likes torturing his flesh-puppets psychologically and enticing them with the cold flesh of his female companions; he hates the Church and hounds the priest of Arefu; he seduces young women; his usually very staid castle erupts in wild bacchanals on some nights, when all forces of hell join him in celebration - the blood-sucking thing might come up, but what my beastly Dracula really gets off on is corrupting and controlling people. This comes in stark contrast to his skin-deep civilized flair; Dracula likes to think of himself as an epitome of culture, even though as his mores and knowledge of the world come to be more and more anachronistic, causing him great anxiety.