[MLWM] Not being able to kill the Master

Started by RPL, December 14, 2009, 03:44:10 PM

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Hi there :),

This last week me a two friends of mine played My Life With Master. It lasted 4 sessions including one for character and master creation only.

One of the players never played this game and me and the other had played it once before, both with PCs, so this was my first time GMing this.

The Master was an aristocrat cast off who was trying to build some sort of close family (wife, kids, kids friends, etc.) that he could show to the rest of his family and thus proving his worth to them (Feeder-brain I believe).

It all went pretty well, and by "well" I mean gut-wrenching, teeth grinding, body twitching, face hiding behind hands crying "oh my god how can this be happening, I have no soul!". So lots of fun.

The players started the game by going along with their Master request, pretty soft stuff at first, throw this and that person to the dogs (so they could feed on them), kidnapping children, etc. All along trying to create and protect their connections with the town's people.

Only by the second session did they start trying to fight what the Master orders. By the end of the third session both players had a Love score greater than Fear + Weariness and (together) were able to reject the Masters order to kill everyone in the castle while he tried to run away from a group of Gypsies that were storming in.

After they succeeded we entered the cycle of play to kill the master. With a couple of scenes in were I dumped all the clichés I could remember from old MLWM-like horror movies, a Fight in a tall crumbling tower during a Lightning storm, from were the three (master + minions) fell. A chariot fight thru a dark wood, a slim slippery dirt road by a cliff with the sea underneath and an unstable suspension bridge.

This was when we hit a little bump. After failing the first roll the players Weariness increased (following the rules) witch diminished their dice pool (I say they because both players were involved in the fight aiding each other) and every roll after that it keep going down, until eventually they had a total of 2d4 (plus any bonus from the Intimacy, Desperation, Honesty dice) against my 12 or 13 d4s.

When we got to this point we noticed that both players Epilogues were at Weariness greater than Reason + Self-Loathing, so there was no point in trying to keep rolling because it was clear that they weren't going to be able to kill the master, nor would their epilogues changed. So we just decided that the master would run away and so would the minions.

So my question with this AP is this, is the Master really supposed to die or is this scenario (a Weariness so high that winning becomes impossible) a probability fluke? Or maybe we fumbled some rule in the book during the fight, but I think not, since we kept reading it even after play ended (just to make sure we did it right).

All and all it was a great game story with horrible doings, intense psychological terror and really strong character defining scenes. Even one person who wasn't playing with us but was in the same room literally bent herself self in two when the orphanage director said to one of the minions (the one responsible for getting children for the master) "you seem like a nice boy, could you please take charge of the orphanage while I recover from my illness (she had a broken leg)", so that was pretty strong.

All the Best,

Adam Dray

I usually run this as a one-shot and I make one minor change that virtually ensures the Master's death: play with Reason and Fear values throughout the game, usually in response to the fiction.

Still, the minions shouldn't be having that much trouble killing Master. It might take a few attempts but they should get it eventually.

1. Do they have enough Love? They might need to work in some scenes with Connections to get more. You can use flashbacks and other dramatic techniques to make them make sense.

2. Are you using the rules for The Horror Revealed to keep Self-Loathing in check? The rule says, if ever a minion's Self-Loathing would increase such that it is greater than Love + Reason, do not raise Self-Loathing; instead, the terrible deeds the minion has done bleed out into the Town, and the minion's player narrates a scene about how the townspeople are doing terrible things.

3. Are the minions Providing Aid to one another in the endgame scenes? Any minion can add (Love - Weariness) dice to any other minion's endgame roll.

4. Are the minions earning bonus dice for Intimacy, Desperation, or Sincerity? It's generally pretty easy to get at least an extra d6 in any scene. The d8 for Sincerity is harder, especially in the endgame scenes.
Adam Dray / adam@legendary.org
Verge -- cyberpunk role-playing on the brink
FoundryMUSH - indie chat and play at foundry.legendary.org 7777

Christoph Boeckle


Ah! I need to play this game again! Not much more to say, but I found an old thread I had read years ago where Paul Czege essentially says you did the right thing: When Endgame crashes and burns.

Adam Dray

I'll also ask, what did you set Fear and Reason at?

If I were to hack MLwM to ensure a clean endgame, I'd add the following simple rule: The first time each minion attempts to kill the Master, reduce Fear by 1 point, to a minimum of 0.

Really, though I haven't seen this issue occur in play, but this might be because I know I'm in a one-shot. I will often set Fear and Reason both to 3, and near the end of the four-hour session, raise Reason to 5 and maybe lower Fear to 2.

Speeds the game along without sacrificing any of the flavor.
Adam Dray / adam@legendary.org
Verge -- cyberpunk role-playing on the brink
FoundryMUSH - indie chat and play at foundry.legendary.org 7777

Eero Tuovinen

I like Adam's hack, it makes sense. All in all, this is a soft spot in the rules. Paul has earlier (like, five years back) said that the players should play through the endgame procedure until it's clear what epilogue everybody's getting, after which the Master just up and dies on his lonesome by fiat. I don't know what his thoughts on the matter are today.

My own hack for this is that when any character challenges the Master, the Fear value is considered zero for the purposes of any other formulas aside from the direct confrontation. This almost always means that once one character has dragged himself that far, most of the others are also so high in love that they can join the rebellion when Fear is removed from their loyalty equation. The combined strength of several minions has so far always been enough to off the Master even if one minion alone couldn't do it.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.



First of all, thanks everyone for your input on this question, it's been really helpful.


1) Yes, they did the love required to trigger the end-game (both of them), but in retrospect, and considering the post Christoph linked, maybe they just had barely the amount required, remember that there were only two players so perhaps we should have played a little longer to allow the love score to increase a bit and compensate for that.

2) We only had one scene of Horror Revealed. By the way, after it happens to one PC it doesn't happen again right? I mean the Self-loathing score can keep increasing (for a player) after it's Horror Revealed?

3) Yes they were aiding each other, the problem was that since they both suffer the consequences when failing, both their Weariness kept increasing, thereby diminishing the pool used for aid.

4) And yes, we basically had the d6 most of the time, with some uses of the d8, but it rolled only 1s and 2s :p

Quote from: Eero TuovinenPaul has earlier (like, five years back) said that the players should play through the endgame procedure until it's clear what epilogue everybody's getting, after which the Master just up and dies on his lonesome by fiat. I don't know what his thoughts on the matter are today.

This is what I read from the Christoph's link. When we concluded that killing the master wasn't going to happen, we just kept on going until the players scores could no longer change the Epilogues (witch is basically Weariness greater than Reason + Self-Loathing) and ended the game with that for the players.

However we did let the Master run away in to the dark, storming night, and the minions disappear into the dark woods on the other side of the big chasm (the bridge was broken in the fight, separating them from the angry townspeople mob). That was the "hopping to "naked Social Contract" for climactic resolution" we came to (like Paul describes in this post), however we did felt the gap.

@Christoph: Thanks for the link to that post, it was really enlightening to what happened in our game.

In conclusion:
I do like the "hopping to "naked Social Contract" better solution better (despite not being perfect) than hacking the game mechanics, mostly because it's really not my forte and I don't feel comfortable doing it;
What we should have done was calm ourselves down, not rush into the end-game when both the players had the condition checked and had some more scenes to try raising both their love scores a bit more, and hope for self-loathing to keep steady. Probably this situation wouldn't have occurred if we had more players (3 at least), because the aiding pool would be much larger.

What do you think?

All the best,

Adam Dray

"Hopping to 'naked Social Contract'" is a game hack, too. If it works for you, great!

And no, Self-Loathing should NEVER exceed a character's Love + Reason. This game mechanic is necessary to keep Self-Loathing in check so that Endgame doesn't slip out of reach. I see nothing in the rules that says it's a one-time thing for each minion.

It might have been a little harder because you had two players. That's only one Provide Aid.

The rules are not explicit about the Master's death, but they do strongly imply that the Master must die. In my mind as GM, it is ESSENTIAL that the minions kill the Master at the end. This simple fact allows me to do the worst kinds of things to the minions (and, to a certain extent, their players) during the game. I tell the players at the beginning that they can create whatever horrible monster of a Master they wish, and I will play him as terrible as they make him. I can't do this if I think there's a chance the Master will win. The fucker needs to die. It's catharsis for the GM and players. It makes it okay.

Oh, just because you get to Endgame doesn't mean you can't go get Love. In a recent game I ran, it was clear that the minions were having trouble killing Master. They had burned down the mansion and confronted him in the most violent way. Really, the game couldn't go on as it had. I flashed forward. "It's six months later. You've tried to escape to live out normal lives, but nothing is ever right for you. You are still, mentally and emotionally, His subject. What is this hollow life like for you?" We play out a couple Connection scenes and they earn some love. I don't let it get too far before: "One day, there is a knock at your door... It's Him."

This is also "naked Social Contract" at work. This is the GM going, "Hey, they triggered Endgame and the rules say that the Master's fate is sealed and we all said he was going to die at the end. So how can that happen without disturbing the fiction? Well, the minions need some Love. Let's see if they can get Love before Master shows up in a couple scenes."
Adam Dray / adam@legendary.org
Verge -- cyberpunk role-playing on the brink
FoundryMUSH - indie chat and play at foundry.legendary.org 7777


Hey, all, :)

I was one of the dudes playing a minion in this game. It happened during one of our regular RPG retreats, which I some times post about here... :)

Quote from: Adam Dray on December 15, 2009, 02:25:18 PMAnd no, Self-Loathing should NEVER exceed a character's Love + Reason. This game mechanic is necessary to keep Self-Loathing in check so that Endgame doesn't slip out of reach. I see nothing in the rules that says it's a one-time thing for each minion.

This. This is interesting. It's definitely not how I read the rules, but I can certainly see myself reding them this way as well. Something to keep in mind.

Does this also apply to the Captured bit?

Quote from: Adam Dray on December 15, 2009, 02:25:18 PMOh, just because you get to Endgame doesn't mean you can't go get Love.

Hmmm, yes and no. The one minion that triggered the endgame is now locked in combat and doesn't get any scenes. As for the others, well, the faster they get into the combat, the more dice the triggering minion still has and the higher the probability of it going well. Again, with only two minions, this is not all that easy, so we wanted as many dice on our side as we could, which means the second minion joined the fight as early as he could, which means, no, no wasting of scenes getting love. Recall that you can only request every other scene, so one love scene equals two rolls by the triggerer, which means two lost dice against one die gained. Not pretty. :) Even with three minions, and even if everybody does it, all you're doing is breaking even and upping the odds that the GM/the group will run out of cool and interesting things to paint during the combat scenes. They do begin to drag on, after a bit. :)

In any case, yeah, the master escaping with nothing, no minions, no mansion, no possessions, utterly destroyed and yet still alive, turned out to be equally satisfying and cathartic, so, all was cool. :)

One more endgame question: it is also conceptually possible that the game ends and the master dies, and upon checking the epilogue conditions, well, none of them are true. I know that when several are true, the player can choose which one to apply and narrate whatever epilogue he wants, as long as he doesn't deprotagonize any of the other players. However, what to do if none of them are true?

(Note: this may have arised because of our (mis)reading of the Horror Revealed rule discussed above. I don't have the numbers in front of me to check. However, my minion never even came close to hitting Horror Revealed, so I don't think the two are related. I did get Captured only once, though, so...)

João Mendes
Lisbon, Portugal
Lisbon Gamer

Adam Dray

Hi, João! Long time, no see!

The Captured condition is not a "cap" on Weariness the way that The Horror Revealed is a cap on Self-Loathing. I think the rules are pretty clear on this.

QuoteIf a roll would ever result in a minion's Self-loathing growing greater than Love plus Reason, 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.

Note the word "instead" in the first paragraph and the phrase "Self-loathing actually remains the same" in the second.

Being Captured, on the other hand, allows Weariness to increase:

QuoteWhen ever a conflict resolution results in a minion's Weariness increasing to a value greater than Reason, the minion is captured by the Townspeople or Outsiders...

After re-reading the rules on Endgame, I think you're right, though I suppose I don't play it that way! In many game sessions, it was not an issue, since the minion who was locked in conflict with the Master won on the first or second attempt. In perhaps one or two of many games I've played did the death of the Master drag on a bit. In those cases, lowering Fear or allowing the Endgame minion a break to get Love was enough to get the Master killed.

I reiterate that it is very important that the Master die. The rules clearly state that Endgame must end with the death of the Master, in fact. And as I have said, the death is a necessity for catharsis. If you got your catharsis without the Master dying, that's all good then.

You're right that the rules leave out an Epilogue constraints. The errata correct this. Specifically:
On page 41, near the five Epilogue constraints write, "But what of the minion whose Self-loathing plus Weariness is equal to their Love plus Reason? Such a one satisfies none of the five constraints. Surely this by Czege is an unforgivable omission! I submit that their Epilogue should be characterized by finding themself a new Master."

With that addition, the Epilogue constraints should cover all the possibilities.

(edited to fix the quote formatting - RE)
Adam Dray / adam@legendary.org
Verge -- cyberpunk role-playing on the brink
FoundryMUSH - indie chat and play at foundry.legendary.org 7777

Frank Tarcikowski

I used to think that the whole "keep an eye on the numbers" approach was bogus. Just play the scenes, take in the fiction, make a statement, play you character, see where you end up. I always found the epilogue maths pretty confusing, never really got what kind of behaviour is likely to get you in to what kind of epilogue.

It's interesting to read of an actual play where the often dreaded "never ending end game" actually occurred. I don't have any answers, all I can say is I probably still don't have a clue how this game really works, or is meant to work. (Only played it once, so far.) I would probably go for collaborative freeform transcendence, but then, I always do. ;-)

- Frank
BARBAREN! - The Ultimate Macho Role Playing Game - finally available in English

Paul Czege

Dang, what a thread. Picture me laying in the snow-crusted grass looking up at a high window in which my creature rages, and all I can think is "it's alive!". I can't imagine any greater personal satisfaction than:

    When people play My Life with Master the game achieves a context such that the group owns the experience and the soul of the game and easily solves concerns to mutual satisfaction without imploding or undercutting anyone's investment.

    When game concerns are discussed on the internet they're conversations about the collaborative artistry of using the game informed by a vast range of creative confidence derived from successful experiences.

So, thanks.


p.s. Adam, the missing Epilogue constraint, as well as the mechanical clarifications of the other suggested annotations, were worked into the text for all copies published after late 2005 or so.
"[My Life with Master] is anything but a safe game to have designed. It has balls, and then some. It is as bold, as fresh, and as incisive  now as it was when it came out." -- Gregor Hutton