Title: My Life With Master Authors: Paul Czege Publisher: Half-Meme Press Year: 2003 64 pages Product Rating: 3 (***) Game Play Rating: 4 (****)
Review by John H. Kim (Copyright 2004 John H. Kim)
cf. other reviews by John
My Life With Master is a horror RPG where the PCs are all deformed minions of an evil, demented genius in an unnamed town in central Europe of 1805 -- in the vein of Igor from Frankenstein or Quasimodo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame. It uses a set of strict rules on the dramatic progression of the story, which depends on the stats and rolls made. It is intended for short campaign play: more than one session, but probably not more than five.
Roughly, play over this period will have the PC minions going about performing tasks for their Master. Going around to each of the PCs each turn, they will perform tasks, but also regularly make overtures to townspeople they know and gain points of Love. When any one minion's Love score reaches a certain threshold, then the Endgame is triggered. The minions and townspeople then rise up and try to destroy the Master, who is almost always destroyed.
The My Life With Master book is 64 digest-sized pages, with a color cover and entertaining interior illustrations by Colin Theriot -- all involving the example cast of characters. There are fairly large margins, but the type-face is relatively small. I'd guess around ten thousands words total. There is a one-digest-page character sheet, and a Formulae sheet with reminders of the rolls. These could both use some work to be more useful functionally. There is a two-page table of contents, but no index.
Campaign & Character Creation
The game suggests that the group should collectively create the campaign. This consists of deciding on two stats for the setting as a whole, and the creation of a central NPC -- the Master. The two campaign stats are Fear and Reason, which will commonly be in the range of 3 to 5. The Master has a variety of category types and qualities, but these are more for color and genre inspiration rather than being mechanical. He has an Aspect ("Brain" or "Beast"), a Want (freeform trait), a Need (freeform trait), and a Type ("Feeder", "Breeder", "Collector", or "Teacher"). None of these are referenced by any of the other mechanics, however, and have no effect on resolution. However, they give some structure to what is otherwise a brainstorming session to collectively come up with ideas for cool bits and hooks for the campaign.
Character creation has a very simple point allocation: the player divides three points between the two stats, Self-Loathing and Weariness. More importantly, though, is determining the two freeform descriptive stats, More Than Human and Less Than Human. These are both quite tricky and a bit difficult to fathom based on sketchy description. Luckily there is an advice section on these, but for my group determining these seemed more of an arcane art than a clearly-defined instruction.
The mechanics are all based on rolling opposed pools of d4s and comparing the totals. Fours are counted as zeroes, however, which simplifies the math slightly. You should have a big bundle of d4s: as dice pools can push to ten or more on both sides. For my game, I got a bunch of identical black d4s. In addition, the GM can grant bonus dice to either the player or the opposition. There are exactly three bonus dice, which are specified by size, color, and theme.
|Bonus Type||Die Color & Size|
In addition, this isn't completely cut-and-dried, but the book strongly suggests a strict turn/scene structure. That is, each player gets one scene before moving around to another player where they have one scene. Each scene will have at most one die roll, which should resolve an important conflict. There are four types of rolls:
A peculiar part about this is that this builds a pattern for adventures into the resolution mechanics. Many activities have no clear means of resolution. Any action has to be classified into "violence" or "villainy" or an Overture, or else it falls into a grey area which is presumably GM fiat. So by only providing mechanics for certain things, it channels activity to those. In addition, there is no concept of difficulty for an attempted action. i.e. The roll is the same whether you are trying to knock down a child, or slaughter a troop of armed soldiers.
My Life With Master is a cool game, which plays with the genre in a very self-conscious way while still retaining a serious side. On the positive side,
While it's not part of the game itself, I was intrigued by an example of play brought up in a Forge Thread on the Half Meme Press forum. It was to me enlightening in how the game works. A GM was giving an example about how his primarily-D&D players attempted to play out MLWM:
This gives a version of how My Life With Master works, with a clear demonstration of the mechanics and how they relate to the narrative. I had a mixed reaction to reading it. My own campaign was not overall like this, but it approached it at times. On the other hand, the author and many other posters reacted positively to this example. As the author put it,
Master orders Minion #1 to destroy his old Collection -- now he wants stuff that's new! and better! Player #1 shrugs and goes to do it. Next scene, I then tell him that the Collection includes, among other things, a puppy.
Player #1: Oh, I don't want to kill the puppy. Hmm... can I resist the Master now?
GM: Well, last scene you said you weren't resisting...
Player #1: Yeah, but that was then. Before I knew about the puppy. I mean, sick. Come on.
GM: Hm... okay. You can try. Succeed and you can let the puppy go.
Player #1: Okay. Darn, I only roll one die. Oh, well...
Player #2: Wait! Stop! Why don't you make an Overture to the puppy?
Player #1: Why? My resistance sucks. I'll just have to kill it next turn, and then I'll lose the Love point.
Player #3: Yeah, and if he fails his Overture, he'll get stuck with a point of Self-Loathing, too.
Player #2: But he'll get a point of Love from the Overture. That'll help with his Resist, right?
Player #1: Well, I'll get to roll two dice instead of one. Still pretty sucky...
Player #2: What about bonus dice? [to GM] Can he get bonus dice?
GM: Well, you know how to get the bonus dice...
Player #2: Okay, so, feed the puppy or something. Pet it. That'll give you the dee four.
Player #3: But then he'll have to kill it, next scene.
Player #2: Well, then he can be desperate or something. Right? That's a dee six. That gives him a pretty good Resist.
Player #1: Okay, that's good. I'll be desperate not to kill it, because we're like friends now. Good plan. Thanks, man.
Player #2: Hey, no problem. Get your Love up, and we'll kick Master's ass.
Indeed, the example does show the MLWM mechanics fulfilling their intended purpose -- merging mechanics with the narrative. This won't appeal to everyone. I leave it up to the reader how they react to it.
It's obvious they're (the players) totally engaged with the game. You should be thrilled!! My Life with Master doesn't aim to deliver an immersionist play experience. The players aren't doing anything wrong by talking mechanical stuff.