In a recent post, I talked about the value of trying other game systems, particularly the so-called “narrative games” or “story games”. All this was a little abstract, and it strikes me that saying “this is a good thing” without really explaining why isn’t terribly helpful. In this post, I look at a specific example: my recent experience with My Life with Master.
My Life with Master is, by all accounts, part of the story game canon. The premise is that the player characters are minions of an evil master. Quite unlike the typical, heroic characters of D&D or other RPGs, the minion player characters are deeply flawed. They struggle to find the courage and the will to resist the increasingly malicious commands of the Master. There’s no Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution here, folks. You’re working with the Fear and Reason of the environment, and your character’s Love, Weariness, and Self-Loathing. The characters strive to establish connections with the fearful townsfolk, thereby gaining enough love (basically, human connectedness) to finally turn against the evil Master.
“It didn’t matter that my character was not powerful in the traditional sense.”
Here’s an example of just how different My Life with Master can be. My character, Ilian, was a young man who had been beaten and kept locked in a small room for most of his life. His only companionship was that of a family of small birds, and his only joy, their songs and visits to his solitary window. Upon his parents’ death, Ilian was freed from the prison of his room, but found that he remained trapped within himself. Having almost never spoken with other people, Ilian’s speech was littered with irratic halts and starts. His mannerisms were birdlike–abrupt and nervous; his darting glances, half-fearful, half-furtive. The townsfolk shunned the odd young man, driving him into the clutches of the Master.
From a game mechanics perspective, Ilian was all but incapable or unwilling to defending himself physically. And his only special talent was his ability to imitate bird calls. Who needs a magic sword, when you’ve got all this going for you?
Now, I imagine that one can create more capable characters than Ilian. In a sense, I was trying to stay as far from D&D as I could, because this was a new experience for me. But here’s the thing: It didn’t matter to the game that my character was not powerful in the traditional sense. From a roleplaying perspective, and in the pursuit of making connections with the townsfolk, he was as playable as any of the other characters. That’s what’s so compelling about a game like My Life with Master. Playing a character like Ilian definitely changed the way I approached situations, but it didn’t make me less capable of dealing with them. The mechanics of the game not only support roleplaying, they demand roleplaying.
My Life with Master is a roleplaying game by Paul Czege. You can learn more at http://www.halfmeme.com/master.html. If you’re interested in playing My Life with Master (and you should be), you’re likely to find players and GMs at the Four Ugly Monsters forum or Pixels and Polyhedrons.