Wednesday, 1 June 2011

MAID: The Awakening!

I purchased MAID: The Roleplaying Game in early 2011, and ran a few games that year. Technically that means it wasn't part of my dedicated year of gaming exploration in 2012, but it was, I think, the first non-PowerFrame game I'd run since the late 1990's. I also hadn't done any GMing for a while, so I figured it would be a good exercise in flexing my creative and improv muscles.

On my initial read-through, I thought the random tables for character generation were funny and flavourful, and provided plenty of opportunity for zany combinations. I've never been a huge fan of random chargen, but given the game is designed for short, one-off stories and over-the-top zany action it seemed like a good fit. I've never had a huge maid fetish, and only knew of the anime genre by reputation, but our first game led to me buying the Black Butler anime, and MAID could definitely be used to run a game based on it!

I'd been doing a lot of reading on different ways of roleplaying, having recently read Ron Edwards' GNS essays on The Forge. My gamer friends and I have always been, by that definition, pretty hardline simulationists, and it took a lot of brain-bending to wrap my head around some of the concepts. MAID was my first attempt at running a "story-game", and to be honest I don't think most of my players were in a great position to appreciate it - some more so than others. It was just too different a style of play - things like: all the players know all of the characters' secrets, but play to dramatic irony by setting up situations where you make things awkward for another PC even though your character has no idea; or the idea that failure is grist for the drama mill, rather than winning at all costs; or that due to random chargen the PCs could be of disparate power levels - all of these things went against our previously established, long-term style of play. While I made an effort to discuss different approaches, I think that long-held gaming habits die hard. Also, not everyone enjoys all styles of play, and some players would soon make their preferences clear.

First Contact

The first Mansion was randomly determined to be on a remote island in the Mediterranean during World War II. The Master was an ageing and eccentric semi-retired military officer. The staff included a double-Shadow Butler played by John, who was secretly a cyborg with machine-guns built into both arms, and a Maid whose mission was to assassinate the Master, played by +Andrew! There were three other Maids, but they weren't particularly vital to the outcome of the game.

This was my first time running a "story game," and I could have handled the assassination plot better. While the butler managed to foil an external assassination attempt (enemy on the roof armed with a bazooka!), after a couple of failed attempts the traitorous maid eventually managed to access the armoury, get a gun, and shoot the Master. As it was approaching the end of the session, I ruled that the Master died and the assassin succeeded at her goal. However, the rules-as-written don't allow characters to die so easily. It seemed like the assassin would just keep making attempt after attempt on the Master's life, and the other characters would try to stop her, until she eventually succeeded. It wasn't until later that I realised how to approach the situation differently.

For starters, the assassin's player should probably be playing up the moral conundrum - they are motivated to kill their target, but can they actually go through with the act? The other players can play to this by making friends and forming strong bonds with the assassin so that when the moment comes to pull the trigger the assassin gets to express a difficult crisis of conscience. At the very least, we should find out why she's so hell-bent on killing the Master. Maybe the friends she's made and the goodwill she's experienced will be able to overcome the hatred in her heart. Maybe the Master will explain everything as a misunderstanding, or apologise for the hurt caused in the past. However, this sort of roleplaying requires a different mindset. It's not about winning or succeeding at your character goals, it's meant to be about expressing character and drama.

Oriental Adventures

My second game of MAID lasted one or two sessions. The Mansion was a family estate in Ancient Japan. The Master was a six year old blond samurai lordling and vampire. The staff were all Maids; a Christian who fought by summoning creatures (Rohin), a blue-skinned alien with piercings (+Paul), and an Onmyou mystic (Barb).

The Littlest Vampire

The group for this game involved two players from the previous game (Barb and Rohin), and one new player (Paul). I think the game went a bit better because some of the players had played before. Much of the game revolved around finding a suitable source of blood for the young Master to feed upon. The Onmyouji managed to capture a deer in the woods... but the Master fell in love with it instead, and kept it as a pet. As the search for blood continued, a group of ninja attacked the mansion and were fought off by the maids. The last one made it into the building, and was defeated in front of the young Master. At least one ninja was captured and put into the dungeon, where he began a new career as the Master's living food supply!

I had material lined up for a second session, but we never got around to it. The little Master, ashamed that he'd been unable to protect himself or help out during the ninja attack, was going to start dedicated sword practice so he could help protect the Maids and himself. A wandering beggar was going to arrive, but actually be a member of the extended family in disguise, looking to protect the young lord from those who meant to usurp his position.

In the next post: before the end of the year, I attempted to run a longer game of MAID, rather than a throwaway one-shot.