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Author Topic: [MLwM] My unsatisfying Life with Dr. Ernst (long)  (Read 18761 times)
Sven Seeland
Member

Posts: 40


« on: November 08, 2005, 06:19:00 AM »

Hi guys and gals...

Well, this Saturday I finally had my first chance to play My Life with Master (my first chance to play any indie game, for that matter) and I'm  not quite sure what to make of this experience. I post here to provide you with some untainted newbie thoughts (my players didn't know about these sorts of games before) and to get some rules-questions clear for me.
If this post is too specific, please be so kind to move it to the Half-Meme-Press Forums.

Let me first introduce my playgroup.
This group is a splinter of another regular roleplaying group in which we usually play Shadowrun but  we've also played one session of Cthulhu. This group has been playing on and off in varying constellations, most of the time with me as the GM. However, lately I have given up on GMing because I found it increasingly frustrating, for all the reasons that are discussed in detail here at the Forge.
The splinter group consists of:
Jana - my girlfriend. Of all the players (besides me) she probably knows most about Indie gaming, even though it isn't much. Being my girlfriend she couldn't really avoid my ravings about the newest indie games I've discovered. She's a very strong person who usually doesn't back down from a conflict. When playing Shadowrun she usually playes crazed psychotic killers.
Falko - A bear of a man. He's the tallest of us all, being almost 2 meters high. He's not exactly slim either, which makes him look rather brutish. I really don't wanna be in his way when he's angry. Fortunately he's a very sunny personality, it is very hard to actually anger him. He's also the jester in our group, always joking around. I was rather concerned that he might try to get out of awkward master-minion situations by ignoring the master's authority and making off-topic jokes but he played along really well.
Anja - our problem child. She always the one who's jamming up the game due to her shyness. In Shadowrun she usually doesn't know what to do because she's intimidated by the technology in the setting (this happens with any RPG she plays: she's intimidated by those parts of the setting that are new to her). She can't remember any rules, even if we explained them to her three times in the last 30 minutes. After playing Shadowrun for over a year know she still barely knows the basic resolution mechanic (and even that she forgets sometimes), leave alone the special rules for her mage character. I was worried that she might fold under the pressure applied by the master and that she couldn't cope with all the evilness going on but as it turned out this was the least of the problems...
Daniel - Anja's boyfriend. Now, before you jump to wrong conclusions, it's Anja who brought him in. He doesn't usually roleplay and he also doesn't belong to our Shadowrun group. He's also a bit shy but turned out to be really open during the game.
And last but not least me – Technically I've been roleplaying for quite a few years but with some very long breaks in it. This is my first time GMing in maybe half a year. I've given up GMing in traditional games like Shadowrun because I found it near impossible to do. (Buzzword: The Impossible Thing Before Breakfast)

This game session was a bit weired from the very beginning. We met at around 5 p.m. but as everyone was moaning how tired they where Jana and I decided to postpone the game to another day and rather go with some boardgames. After a few hours of gaming we where all laughing and generally having a great time so we decided to try MLwM anyways. It wasn't until 9 p.m. that we started. We set up some candles on the table, killed the electric lights, everyone had a rules-overview and a character sheet. I translated everything to German since I didn't want any awkward mixing of languages to destroy the athmosphere.

The master creation phase went really well. Everybody really got into it and in less than half an hour we had a master, a town, a demesne and the minions. I was really surprised how smoothly this went and how quickly everyone came up with ideas! Especially the boys where jumping at it instantly. The only exeption: Anja. She folded instantly. As soon as the master creation began she was lumped onto the table, drawing abstract figures on a sheet of paper. The only thing she contributed where a few rare objections concerning the master. Overall she looked very uncomfortable and "not pleased" before we even started with master creation. Creating her minion was a chore for all of us since she couldn't "come up with anything" (her words). Whenever we tried to get her going by asking very to-the-point questions ("Would rather play a strong person or someone who manipulates people through language?") she just answered with "I don't know". We finally got her to come up with something but I'm not sure why we had to press it out of her like that. Maybe she was intimidated by the creativity of the others and felt she had to live up to some standard or whatnot. She did express her doubts when I introduced the group to the game concept earlier that week but when I asked whether we wanted to play she was all for it.

Just for the record: we came up with a guy called Dr. Werner Ernst, a former doctor who experimented with humans and their brains in order to ultimately create an artificial uber-brain. He started of as a Collector of the Brain aspect but is now probably more of a Breeder I guess.

Once we had that done I retreated for a few minutes to make the first batch of tasks for the minions. In retrospect I wish I had done a few more and not just the first one for each minion. I was hoping that subsequent jobs would come up during play but they didn't. Or rather they did but they weren't enough for the number of players. One reason why I didn't take more time was that it was already late and I didn't want to let them wait for too long. This was a major factor for my later insecurity.

I won't really go into the story much for one because I can't remember all the scenes and for the other because it really doesn't matter much. I'll rather present some specific situations that got me thinking.

One thing that I noticed was that everybody was jumping onto the rules a lot. Not that this was a bad thing. For me it kindof broke the immersion a bit but I can live with that. Everybody else seemed to really enjoy tinkering with the rules and discussing different possibilities. One reason for this might be that we were all playing for the first time and we were just getting to know and exploring the system.

As I talked to everybody after the game they all semed to have enjoyed the game. All except for Anja. She really had a problem with the fact that it doesn't matter how you do something. Success only depends on a diceroll. You roll the dice, then you explain how you either succeed or fail. She wanted to come up with ideas and tricks to improve her chances but the only way to do this in MLwM would be the bonus dice. I noticed my players where fishing for those dice all the time but I think of this as a good thing since it really got the descriptions going in a good way.
One problem was that I oftentimes didn't see their attempts. Many interactions and overtures involved animals and they tried getting intimacy dice by patting and feeding them. I didn't see this at first and so they had to ask me for intimacy dice. This got better as we went along though. I am also doubtful about how well animals work as connections. Maybe Paul could give us his philosophy on that? My one problem is that it's hard to play relationships with animals and that you can get love by basically feeding and patting.
Another thing that bothered her (and me too, by the way) is that we couldn't really see a use for the more-thans and less-thans. If you can't use them in overtures or on jobs or against the master and other minions, then what do you use them for?

One of the major problems was the fact that we were still caught in old roleplaying patterns from our Shadowrun days. Conflict resolution was a real mind-bender for us to get into. We got used to it after a while but at the beginning everybody was describing their actions in acribic detail before we got to roll.  This way of rolling the dice seemed really counter-intuitive to us. Maybe this really is because we're so used to task-resolution systems but even Daniel the non-roleplayer fell for this.

Daniel was a really interesting player. He tried to trick the system wherever he could. His first job was to get an elderly lady for the master's experiments. He went to the ladys home, made a successful villainy roll and narrated how he successfully convinced the old woman that he was some distant relative of hers who wanted to take her for a walk. This lifted his obligation to do the job. However, he didn't plan to deliver the woman to the master but instead took her to the forest to feed her to a bear, one of his connections, intending to make an overture and gain some love from the bear. This felt really, really awkward to me and to some other players as well. He didn't do it in the end (can't remember why) but the thought of it didn't quite seem to be in the spirit of the game and most of all wouldn't justify gaining a point of love without gaining self-loathing.

Continuing on that storythread:
After he decided that he wouldn't feed the granny to the bear he brought them to the blacksmith. The blacksmith's son was a connection of his, so he said he could maybe convince his dad to take granny and keep her safe from the master. What the hell do you roll for something like this? Villainy? Overture? He decided to make overtures to granny and the blacksmith by telling them all about the master and gaining the sincerity dice for both overtures (for being open and telling everything). For some reason it seems to me that this isn't how sincerity was intended to be used. I thought it would have to be more... dramatic.

He was also the one who went for end-game first. At this point I have to say that we didn't finish the game. He didn't succeed at resisting the master but he did fulfill the endgame condition. He went straight to the master and when he got his next assignment he told him (me) straight in the face “Nope, won't do that, dude” in a very casual way. No respect, no fear, no trembling, nothing. He failed the resistance test so he had to do the task anyways but to me this situation was deeply unsatisfying because it was utterly non-dramatic.

So, my concrete questions would be:
Can you have animals as connections?
What do you really use your more-thans and less-thans for?
Can the master give an order to the same minion for a second time after the first attempt of doing the job failed?
When do you give out sincerity dice?

Anything else is up for grabs, of course. I'd be more than happy to answer any questions and go into more detail.

Thanks for reading all this and tanks for replying!


Sven
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- Sven

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Victor Gijsbers
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« Reply #1 on: November 08, 2005, 07:39:37 AM »

My first question to you is: any idea why Anja roleplays at all? If she can't be bothered to learn even the basics of a system and doesn't like to make even the minimal creative effort involved in answering specific questions concerning her minion, then what does she want to do? Maybe you should just play boardgames with her?

Concerning the amount of tasks you'd prepped: what you really need to do is write down the names of all the connections on a sheet in front of you. This is your To Do list. Need a task? Ask one of the minions to beat up, kidnap, kill or whatever the connection. That creates drama.

Quote
Can you have animals as connections?
No. The minions want to be loved by the townspeople, not by animals. I don't think the rules state it explicitly, but I always disallow animal connections. They aren't tragic enough.

Quote
What do you really use your more-thans and less-thans for?
You can use them in Overtures, and so forth. Absolutely. Any scene. What makes you think they cannot?

Quote
Can the master give an order to the same minion for a second time after the first attempt of doing the job failed?
Of course. Let him rage. Let him retaliate: "You brought her to the woods instead of bringing her to me? Now she knows too much, and I will have to ask Igor to kill her!" The player should fear the Master.

Also, talking an NPC into following you simply is not Villainy if you do not intend to do something awful to her. So don't settle for easy ways out; make clear what the stakes of the conflict are. Not: "do you convince her to come with you?", but "do you succeed in bringing her to the castle with your lies?"

Quote
When do you give out sincerity dice?
When the minion speaks a truth that he wouldn't easily tell. When he needs to overcome his own resistance, and really opens himself to the other, being vulnerable in the process.
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Sven Seeland
Member

Posts: 40


« Reply #2 on: November 08, 2005, 09:08:46 AM »

My first question to you is: any idea why Anja roleplays at all? If she can't be bothered to learn even the basics of a system and doesn't like to make even the minimal creative effort involved in answering specific questions concerning her minion, then what does she want to do? Maybe you should just play boardgames with her?
Good question. She definitely is into boardgames. A lot. I think one reason for which she still roleplays is the fact that she can get together with her friends (us) and socialize. She's also pretty active in the planning phase of the games, suggesting things here and there (usually pretty vague stuff that can't be applied too easily) and generally trying to be there whenever she can. From just talking to her I get the experience that roleplaying is really important for her. Anja is a difficult person overall though. And she never really talks about her problems. It might have been as simple as the setting not appealing to her or that we just hit her in an uncreative moment or that she was just intimidated by the task something like that. She is generally "You do it for me" type of person, not only in gaming. When playing Shadowrun she does open up. And she did open up in MLwM as well, once we where a few scenes into the game. I think she's just overwhelmed by new things that she isn't comfortable with yet. Maybe she doesn't know what is expected of her.

Concerning the amount of tasks you'd prepped: what you really need to do is write down the names of all the connections on a sheet in front of you. This is your To Do list. Need a task? Ask one of the minions to beat up, kidnap, kill or whatever the connection. That creates drama.
I fear it ain't quite so easy. In my eyes you do need some story to back it up. It can be punishment, yes. It can be "she knows too much". It can be "I need her for my experiments" but beyond that things get tricky. And with 4 players you go through those stock possibilities real fast.

Quote
What do you really use your more-thans and less-thans for?
You can use them in Overtures, and so forth. Absolutely. Any scene. What makes you think they cannot?
Discussion here at the Forge makes me think that.
You can't use them in jobs because a job requires you to roll a dice. You don't roll dice when you use your more-or-less-thans. In overtures you need to show your humanity but your more-or-less-thans are by definition not human, thus you can't use them. Anything related to the other minions or the master can't involve the more-or-less-thans (I think Paul wrote that) because they became immune or attuned to them from living together for so long. You can't use them in Villainies (I think Paul said that, too) because they are so natural to you that you wouldn't gain self-loathing by using them. What else is there left then?

Quote
Can the master give an order to the same minion for a second time after the first attempt of doing the job failed?
Of course. Let him rage. Let him retaliate: "You brought her to the woods instead of bringing her to me? Now she knows too much, and I will have to ask Igor to kill her!" The player should fear the Master.
Yea, I was aiming more for a situation like "What? How dare you not to bring her to me? Go and get her and don't you return without her!"
And by the way, in our actual play it was very clear to me that the players did not fear the master.

Concerning conflict resolution: yea, it makes sense what you are saying. I guess we still have to get used to that. Setting the stakes takes some practice, I guess. You're clarification did help a lot though.

The sincerity dice now makes a lot more sense. I shouldn't have given it away that easily.

I think a major problem was that I was too lenient. If I'd stuck closer to those things you were suggesting (which I didn't know at the time) it would have probably been a smoother ride, especially with Daniel.
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Mr. Sandman bring me a dream...
Michael S. Miller
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« Reply #3 on: November 08, 2005, 09:45:43 AM »

I fear it ain't quite so easy. In my eyes you do need some story to back it up. It can be punishment, yes. It can be "she knows too much". It can be "I need her for my experiments" but beyond that things get tricky. And with 4 players you go through those stock possibilities real fast.

You're putting too much thought into it. You're treating the Master like a person instead of a club. Part of the horror is that the minions are forced to do these terrible, terrible things even when they make no objective sense. The Master does not need to explain himself to the pitiful minions. They serve him, not the other way around.

BUT, explanations can up the tension, as well. When players start to try to protect their Connections, by hiding them in the woods and the like, I have the Master decide that he wants them specifically because of the thing they did to hide the Connection. "I was walking near the woods and heard an old lady singing to herself. Her voicebox is the perfect pitch for my device. I never would have noticed it amidst the noises in the town. Bring her to me."

Quote
What do you really use your more-thans and less-thans for?
Just because you still have to roll for Violence and Villainy even if a MTH or LTH applies, doesn't mean the MTH/LTH doesn't get used. It just means that the part of the task that the MTH applies to is not what you roll for. You roll for some other part of the task.

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Sven Seeland
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« Reply #4 on: November 08, 2005, 10:12:02 AM »

Just because you still have to roll for Violence and Villainy even if a MTH or LTH applies, doesn't mean the MTH/LTH doesn't get used. It just means that the part of the task that the MTH applies to is not what you roll for. You roll for some other part of the task.

Yes, but that makes them so insignificant. It doesn't make a difference whether you use them or not, the outcome still depends on the dice. You wouldn't even need rules for the MTH and LTH since they don't ever make a difference. At least not in my understanding, so please correct me if I'm wrong.
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Mr. Sandman bring me a dream...
Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #5 on: November 08, 2005, 12:20:37 PM »

My take on your questions:
Can you have animals as connections?

Only if animals are considered townspeople. You'll notice that the town is defined during Master-creation. In my games animals are usually townspeople, interestingly enough.

The only theoretical limitation on a connection, however, is that you the players have to consider an overture towards the connection an emphatic effort on the part of the minion. So the game won't break even if you allow a non-townspeople connection by accident, as happens now and then with a complex game or a false town-definition (which happens now and then).

Quote
What do you really use your more-thans and less-thans for?

Speaking for myself, I don't use them for anything. Or rather, they're tools for scenario preparation; I tend to go for MTHs and LTHs, because they tell me what the player thinks are the character's defining features. They also tell us in a fundamental way what makes the character special as compared to townsfolk, so that's something I can always throw their way if they are getting too cozy: "You're too much MTH!" shouts the connection. "And your LTH sucks, too!" he/she continues.

If a player says that he will automatically win/lose a conflict because of a MTH/LTH, I'll give that to him if it's even tangentially relevant. The normal consequences of that type of conflict apply. But note that this only happens rarely, because the players prefer to let the dice do the talking and I never take the matter up myself. Still, when they care about the situation, it's wondrous how they desperately hang onto anything to control their fate. You'll note that I've never had a player suggest that they could triumph against the Master without rolling dice, though.

So MTH and LTH definitely matter. But they don't matter for the GM. I don't usually even separate between the two, I just make a note that the character has a social & martial, or whatever, and then drive play towards those arenas. It's left up to the player to draw on their MTH/LTH when and if they consider it necessary. It's especially entertaining when they frame situations carefully to account for the exception, so as not to get an automatic victory/defeat.

Quote
Can the master give an order to the same minion for a second time after the first attempt of doing the job failed?

Sure, no limitations at all. He can also send several minions to a job, or order a minion to undercut another if necessary, or he can just outright torture minions that fail. The important thing is to make the players fear the consequences of failure, otherwise it's all for nothing. My favourite is to castrate failures, that lets a MLwM-newbie know we're in business. The old-timers fear it too, for they know that a castrated character never survives the epilogues, for some reason.

Quote
When do you give out sincerity dice?

I do it when the character has pure motivations, the task only benefiting another person out of pure love. The other person can never be the Master, though. You'll know it when you see it. And yes, I agree that the definition in the book is vague.

Other than that, listen to Michael. He knows his stuff.
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Victor Gijsbers
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« Reply #6 on: November 08, 2005, 12:34:39 PM »

The other person can never be the Master, though.
Really? I love to give that Sincerity die when the minion tells the Master that Lydia is the only person he has ever really loved, that he would do anything for the Master if he just doesn't have to bring her to the dissection chamber, that he only feels food when Lydia is there, and so forth.

And, of course, I generally love it even more when the minion nevertheless fails.
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Sven Seeland
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« Reply #7 on: November 08, 2005, 01:05:54 PM »

Ah, more enlightening answers!

One more question that I forgot to mention:
During the game there was oftentimes an uncertainty about narration rights. I know the GM sets the scene, the player announces the intent and the dice are roled. So far so good. But after that, who gets to narrate what? Do the players narrate the whole scene? Or the GM? Or what?
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #8 on: November 08, 2005, 01:21:17 PM »

Hey Sven,

My Life with Master isn't a narration apportionment game. Scenes are collaboratively roleplayed by the player and GM to completion to accord with the dice result.

Paul
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Michael S. Miller
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« Reply #9 on: November 09, 2005, 07:23:00 AM »

The other person can never be the Master, though.
Really? I love to give that Sincerity die when the minion tells the Master that Lydia is the only person he has ever really loved, that he would do anything for the Master if he just doesn't have to bring her to the dissection chamber, that he only feels food when Lydia is there, and so forth.

Hi, Victor.

I'd call that complete and total Desperation. The minion has a need ("I need Lydia to be safe") and he's trying to make that need the Master's problem--begging the Master to meet his need for him ("Please make Lydia safe from me by not ordering me to get her").

For me, I only award Sincerity when the minion admits and takes responsibility for their own wrongdoings. If they do this when resisting the Master, then the white d8 is all theirs. ("I hate you, Master. I've killed Lydia's entire family to try to please you. But no more.")

Oddly enough, in my own day-to-day life, I occasionally catch myself trying to force my problems on other people. I tell myself to "go for the Sincerity die." Things generally improve.

Or maybe I just think about this game way, way too much. 8^)
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Vaxalon
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« Reply #10 on: November 10, 2005, 02:23:28 PM »

You'll know when you've thought about this game too much, when you retreat to a castle in the wilderness and start assembling a band of misfit outsiders to do your bidding while you hatch nefarious schemes in the dungeons.
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Victor Gijsbers
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« Reply #11 on: November 10, 2005, 02:33:41 PM »

No, you don't understand. They only appear nefarious to average men. I can assure you that all my plans are only concerned with the greater happiness of all human beings! The small sacrifices that inevitably have to be made are, though regretable, insignificant compared to the blessings that they will make possible.
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #12 on: November 14, 2005, 08:15:22 AM »

Ah, yes, Victor points out the main feature of the Master's psychology, he's an egomaniac who can rationalize anything, absolutely anything, as the right way to act, so long as it matches his goals. He is god, and all morality stems from him, to his thinking. As he is the superman, he must be right. It's all so Neitzchean.


On a completely different tangent, Sven, you probably are getting the right message here, but I want to make it clear. All of the "criticisms" of your play here are just as much criticisms of the text. That is, if Mike says that you thought too much and didn't use the master as a club, that's because he's determined that by lots of play, and has extrapolated it from the text. Not that the text is obvious and that you missed anything. It's a pretty good text, but imperfect as is all communication. The advice you're getting here is "how to make it work," not "why it didn't work given what you did wrong."

I probably didn't have to say that, but felt like it anyhow.

Mike
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Victor Gijsbers
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« Reply #13 on: November 14, 2005, 08:42:22 AM »

As he is the superman, he must be right. It's all so Neitzchean.

The Master is so not the Nietzschean Übermensch. I could give a hundred reasons for that, but two should be enough: 1. the Master cannot get the Sincerity die; 2. the Master's main motive is being appreciated by the outsiders. Time to read the Zarathustra again, Mike. :-)
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CPXB
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« Reply #14 on: November 14, 2005, 09:37:48 AM »

I almost said what Victor said, myself.  ;)
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