My Life With Master: "As seminal to RPGs as Frankenstein was for literature"

Over on the Play This Thing blog, master game designer Greg Costikyan describes "My Life With Master:" "as seminal a work in the history of tabletop role-playing games as Frankenstein was for literature."

Imagine a gothic countryside burg, like the quite Bavarian steppes where Victor Frankenstein might have lived, or the brambly swamps of Dracula's castle. We're talking Eastern Europe before communism, when science was just kissing the brittle lips of superstition and stable poverty. The game begins by the group collectively designing a "Master", the otherworldly antagonist who dwells in some archetypal castle or haunted house or ancient catacomb. This master has some kind of M.O. – discovering the secret of eternal life, rejuvenation, astral projection, or maybe just a nice skin suit, get creative. Then the players design their characters, minions of this master, complete with a tragic flaw and constrained power. Then the real game begins.

The game is based on a few variables: Love, Self-Loathing, Weariness, and Fear. If you have any game design experience, you may be experiencing a form of cerebral arousal right now – we're talking about a spreadsheet soaked in procedural theme, yet elegant to the scale of Euclidean geometry. This sets the incentives for players to act a conflict of love versus self-loathing, where doing work for the master increases self-loathing, and making overtures to villagers increases love. Remember in Bride of Frankenstien when he smokes the pipe with the blind man? Stuff like that, but in the context of your character design, and acted out with your own pathos.

Eventually the contours of the dynamic, the way the spreadsheet algorithmically tends to move, puts the dramatic arc toward a climax, with one minion swelling with enough love to rebel against the master. Then everything goes crazy, the villagers start attacking the minions, and the fight with the master goes back and forth. After the master is killed, each character gets their own epilogue scenario based on what their numbers were at the finish.

Link to review, Link to buy My Life With Master