My Life with Master was written by Paul Czege and is published by Half Meme Press. In it, players portray potent but psychologically dependant minions of twisted masters who send them off to perform any number of inhuman tasks. Not only do the players design their characters, they also collectively design their master. The more the minions serve their master’s diabolical interests, the more the minions hate themselves. Their increasing self-loathing makes them more and more capable of carrying out their master’s orders, but at the same time strengthens their master’s psychological grip on their psyches. A minion’s only link to his human roots are his “Connections,” which are people in town whom the minion cares about and visits on side trips whenever the master sends him out. The more a minion visits his Connections, the more Love he accumulates, which helps the minion resist the master’s powerful hold. The goal of the game is for the minions to finally resist and kill their master.
Attribute, Conflicted Gauge (“Fear,” “Reason,” “Self Loathing”), Dice Pool, Endgame, Flaw (“Less than Human”), Game Master, Gift (“More than Human”), Idiom (“Love”), Narrative Reward (“Intimacy”/“Desperation”/ “Sincerity”), Negotiated Contest (which is very coarse grained – one roll per scene), Safety Valve, Shared Gauge (“Fear” and “Reason”), Structured Story, Trait (More than Human/Less than Human), Trauma Gauge (“Weariness”)
The player characters, or minions, of My Life with Master have three numeric attributes of Self- Loathing, Weariness, and Love. The evil master has the single attribute of Fear and the townspeople collectively have the attribute of Reason.
Minions also have More than Human and Less than Human traits. These are characteristics or abilities that indicate the situations in which the minion cannot fail or cannot succeed. For example, if a minion has a More than Human trait of “Has super strength except when he hasn’t eaten for 24 hours,” then any test of strength will automatically succeed unless he has fasted for a day. Similarly, if his Less than Human trait reads “Is clumsy unless pursuing food,” any test of grace or agility will always fail unless he is searching for a meal.
Finally, minions have Connections, which are relationship traits the character has with individual townsfolk. The sum of the ranks in these traits gives the minion’s overall Love value. As minions visit their connections, they gain Love which helps them to break their master’s psychological hold over them.
The five attributes of Self-Loathing, Weariness, Love, Fear, and Reason are used in various combinations to resolve conflicts. For example, to resist the master’s orders, the minion must roll Love minus Weariness against his master’s roll of Fear plus Self- Loathing (this is actually the minion’s Self-Loathing as the master only has a Fear attribute). On the other hand, to carry out some violent order of his master, the minion must roll Fear plus Self-Loathing against his opponent’s roll of Reason plus Weariness. The various formulae are hard to remember (as least for me), but they do follow a sort of horror movie logic if you study them carefully.
To resolve the conflicts, dice pools are used. These are made up mostly of d4s whose number is determined by the formulae previously mentioned. But, an additional die may be added through role-play as a form of Narrative Reward. Only one additional die may be awarded by the Game Master on any conflict. It is earned by role-playing Intimacy, Desperation, or Sincerity. An extra d4 can be earned through intimacy, which essentially boils down to sitting down and having a glass of wine or meal with your opponent, giving gifts, or other similarly endearing actions. A d6 can be earned through desperation, which involves the character begging or pleading his case with extreme emotion. A d8 is earned through sincerity, the demonstration of real concern for the opponent. Concerning sincerity, the game text says, “you’ll know it when you see it.” The master is incapable of sincerity, so the players can always trump the master in this regard.
Once the dice pools are gathered, both sides roll the dice and sum the results. Excluding the narrative reward die, any rolls of 4 count as zero. The higher overall total wins the entire conflict and gets to narrate the outcome. So, there is only one contest roll per scene.
The fact that different formulas are used for different kinds of conflicts complicates the diagrams used to illustrate the conflict resolution system. Ordinarily, we could just stick a gauge labeled “Pertinent Attribute” into one or two diagrams to simplify things, because most games use their attributes in a similar fashion throughout. But, My Life with Master does not. So, we actually need five diagrams to illustrate the conflict resolution system: one for each type of conflict that can arise in the game.
Given that conflicts are completely resolved through a single roll, there are no rules for initiative or action order within a scene, nor do there need to be. There is a pre- determined ordering to the scenes, though (see the Structured Story design pattern), which dictates when players contribute and the general nature of the scenes.
Whenever a minion makes an overture to a connection, he gains a point of Love, whether he succeeds in his contest roll or not. If he fails, he also gains a point of Self-Loathing. Self-Loathing is also raised whenever the minion successfully enacts a violent or villainous act in service to his master. Since Self-Loathing is conflicted, with higher values making it harder for the minion to resist his master’s orders, the raising of its value cannot truly be considered a reward. From the perspective of achieving the endgame, it is actually a punishment.
The only other rewards in the game are the narrative rewards given for role-playing Intimacy, Desperation, and Sincerity. These final rewards are perhaps the most important to game play, however, because they represent the only real control a player has over the success or failure of any given conflict.