My life with Maximus

We played a full game of My Life with Master at Spelens Hus for two sessions, across the end of last September and the beginning of October.

The first two videos for session 1 show the preparation, excepting the nuts and bolts of making the characters. Given a very brief “stereotypical Balkan mountains, decayed nobility living on decayed estates” opening, the group produced our Master: Maximus, a handsome fellow with billowing blond hair and ruffled shirts, a builder of servitors and constructs, who requires the blood of the townsfolk as they suffer in nightmares, and who is desperate to impress the academic intelligentsia.

From left to right, the minions are Wolf (Max), Daisy (Denica), Red (Nathan), and Tessa (Odin).

Their beginning scores were Self-Loathing 3 and Weariness 0 for the first and last, and Self-Loathing 0 and Weariness 3 for the middle two. Unfortunately I can’t find the sheets right now, so briefly:

  • Wolf is a feral boy who can beat up anyone except animals, and he cannot speak but can write
  • Daisy is a housemaid who is superhumanly organized [I can’ recall the exception], and she cannot fight unless in the Master’s presence
  • Red is an early experimental subject who can induce nightmares in others although not in children, and he cannot dream for himself [I can’t recall this exception]
  • Tessa is Maximus’ first try at a construct; she has superhuman physique but, and she is inhumanly offputting and low-affect except in very formal situations

I set Fear at 3 and Reason at 2, as I didn’t want a big difference between them to dominate the mechanics. That’s also why their values are within the range of character scores, although it led to some features of play I wasn’t thinking about.

  • Constant capture: technically, Red and Daisy would always be captured by the townsfolk after their scenes. I think I might have missed it at least once.
  • Horror Revealed / Self-Loathing increase: early in play, given the range of the values, Horror Revealed would be triggered a lot (when Tessa or Wolf did any Violence or Villainy) – and then, as play developed, Love outstripped the threshold so it happened less. I liked this effect a lot and I’m pretty sure we did it correctly throughout.

None of these raised anything I’d think of as a problem during play, but, pro tip: one should know that whatever you choose for these values, they do establish specific relationships with most of the other rolls and rules of play. If anyone’s interested in my advice, I don’t advise trying to anticipate or design anything by front-loading them, but merely to choose a couple of values that seem aesthetically pleasing and know that some specific rules-relationship will emerge from it, for this particular play experience.

Reviewing video of oneself playing is … I guess the positive term would be “humbling,” if it includes “what the hell were these people putting up with.” Fiction isn’t everything. The fiction we produced was, I submit, quite good. But my play in the first session needs some harsh criticism.

  • Structural feature: I didn’t want siloed play, so we ended up with multiple rolls in a group situation, which isn’t bad or against the rules, but it’s also not in accord with their default, which is more like an individual round-robin of single-minion conflicts, one per scene.
  • Which backfired in one regard anyway, because instead of including everyone this way, I or we totally failed to include Nathan. Maybe this was heightened a bit as he only used More Than Human and hence no rolls, but really, I just left him out in the ordinary sense of play. It’s no surprise that he decided not to continue playing for the second session.
  • This ties into my current thinking about how play suffers when it is “conducted” by one person letting others know when they can even speak, at all, ever. This game can can shift into this problem, which is what I was trying to avoid, but I overwhelmed myself and left a person out.

I think now that we should have stopped earlier, perhaps even after the blood-draw events, about halfway through the time we played; if not then, then certainly after the Horror Revealed. I felt “fine” at the time, but I can see myself struggle through brain fog after that point, forgetting whom I’m talking to or fighting my way through applying rules that I do in fact know.

We began session 2 with a rules review, which isn’t scintillating viewing, so I didn’t include it, but it was a good example of how people connect with system once they have felt their characters move around and do things. We summarized relevant mechanics on the whiteboard on the wall next to the camera, which is why you can see us glancing and pointing at somehing during the session. Therefore everyone went into play this time with a strong idea of the variables, where their character stood in its current profile (we made a little chart), and how those variables might change: Horror Revealed, Capture, exact circumstances of Endgame, Connections, how Love relates to everything else, and how scenes relate to the Master’s orders and one specific character at a time.

Session 2 is far more dynamic with the minions’ activity and everyone’s appreciation for their difficulties, but something about scenes and play is still off at the start and occasionally wavers. I said, “now it’s Wolf’s scene,” but sidetracked myself more than once instead of doing it. Later, there’s a bit I clipped out of the video, after Tess failed to resist Maximus’ command to give Grigorious the nightmare-blood in his champagne, as again I kept trying to get to Wolf’s next scene, as others wanted to keep drilling into the already-played moment.

In the video, Parts 1-3 of session 2 total just under an hour, but including the rules discussion and one or two clipped-out bits, it was just over ninety minutes, and I can see myself hitting a minor wall at its end. Personal request to anyone who plays with me: when you see that, call for a break! I can’t see myself hit it when it’s actually happening. The whole session was – stunning to me now – three hours of real time, including some rules mistakes in the last hour, and I really don’t know how I made it through.

As of this writing, the playlist includes all of session 1 and the first four parts of session 2 (which finished the game); I’ll add the second half of session 2 as I continue to edit them. [Done!]

Here’s what I’d really like to do in the comments: demystify this game. It’s eminently playable with no extreme or secret techniques. I can’t do it without your inquiries and reflections.

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