My Life With Doktor von Alsberg
It's too late for this game, but some thoughts on what to do better:
- Take a longer break between creating the Master and Minions and actual play. I wasn't as satisfied with my work the first session and having a week to consider things helped the next session.
- Be more aggressive at giving bonus dice to victims of violence and villainy. This will lead to fewer successes, increase Weariness, and potentially break the SL feedback loop.
The Master: Herr Doktor Edgar von Alsberg V
Background: The Doktor is a thaumaturgical scientist, exploring the mystical edges of science. He is a member of the Thaumaturgical Brotherhood of Berlin, a society of like-minded fellows. One of the Brotherhood's areas of investigation is the creation of homunculuses, servants who are intelligent but not self-aware or free-willed. The Doktor believes that is it possible to create a self-aware and free-willed homunculus. The resulting beings would be strong, hard to damage, not age, and have limitless stamina. In essence they would be the next evolution of humanity. The Brotherhood believes that this is impossible and has mocked his theories as being foolish.
The Doktor believes that the key to his research is the "Breath of Life." He believes he can collect from the dying breath of a human.
The Doktor is very fastidious, demanding cleanliness.
Insecurity: The Doktor is paranoid, believing that people are always mocking him behind his back. There is some basis for this, but not to the level he believes it to be.
Passion: Create a perfect immortal person.
Needs: The Breath of Life (the dying breath of humans)
Wants: The Doktor seeks the respect of the Brotherhood, for his genius to be acknowledged, and to show them up.
Outsiders: The Thaumaturgical Brotherhood of Berlin
Demense: An abandoned fort outside of town. He has converted one large room into a cutting edge scientific lab.
The MinionsAll PCs chose an initial self-loathing of 2 and an initial weariness 1. All characters are played by players of the same sex. (Gabriel is technically sexless, but the name and the player are male.)
Humanoid, but not human, homunculus.
More than Human (MtH): Can terrify anyone unless he has spoken to them. (He has a very sweet voice.)
Less than Human (LtH): Cannot speak unless spoken to.
Paulina, florist in the town square
Josef, the town doctor
The Minion: Gretel
The Doktor's housekeeper
MtH: Can sing heart-stoppingly beautiful music except when her hands are dirty.
LtH: Is unable to answer a question directly unless asked three times.
Hans, town grocer who looks like Gretel's childhood friend
Susanna, sickly child who plays in the town square
The Minion: Schraeder
Street urchin taken in by the Doktor
MtH: Locks, bars, and other restraints can't stop him except in the presence of academics.
LtH: Cannot speak about himself unless covered in dirt, grime, or other filth.
Frederick, baker who gave Schraeder scraps of bread when he was a beggar
Bradley, a former classmate who stood up for Schraeder
The Minion: Annah Vulfsdautter
Hunter, raised by wolves, taken in and educated by the Doktor
MtH: Can hunt own and kill any of God's creations except she cannot bring herself to harm wolves or dogs
LtH: Paralyzing claustrophobia. Can not voluntarily enter any buildings except when she cannot see.
Geoff, huntsman and houndkeeper in town. Freed one of Annah's "sisters" from a trap
Mary, young girl who often gathers herbs in the forest and sings folk songs
Session Summaries and Notes
Session 1: Sunday, June 3rd, 2007
Spent about 30 minutes in Master creation. I provided relatively little input. Started as Brain Collector (collecting breath of life), naturally turned into a Breeder as they continued working on him. I was the only person to have read the rules, so I find it interesting that they independently created the homunculus creating Master (with a homuculus Minion) as in the book.
Then about 30 minutes of Minion creation. There is some discussion of Minions, but not great deal. They all chose an initial self-loathing of 2 and an initial weariness 1 independently; they don't discuss numbers at all.
Gretel: Chews her out for not cleaning the lab promptly enough. As punishment, orders her to dig up a body for the Master for comparison purposes. Fails to resist.
Gabriel: The lab is a bloody mess after a failed experiment. Gabriel was present, so his clothes are bloody. Order him to clean lab with cloak, then get a new one. Accepts. Crudely pushes blood around with cloak.
Schraeder: Ordered to get glass flasks for capturing souls. The Master's credit has run out, so Schraeder must get them some other way. Accepts.
Annah: The Master needs silver for his research. Ordered to get silver coins from the tax collector. Accepts.
Gretel: Under the cover of night, digs up a body, hiding from the investigating priest. (Villainy succeeded)
Gabriel: Under the cover of night, breaks into the church and steals monk's robes. (Villainy succeeded).
Schraeder: Under the cover of night, breaks into glass blower's shop and pinches flasks. Avoids waking the glassblower. (Villainy succeeded).
Annah: In the evening, slays the tax collector's guards and driver and it passes through the woods. Chases carriage into trees where it crashes. (Villainy succeeded. (The violence automatically succeeded per her More than Human. The attack as a whole was Villainy.))
Gretel: The master needs a breath. She is ordered to capture breath of a man who is dying in the Town. Accepts.
Gabriel: Still in the church, steals some money from the collection box. (Villainy succeeded.)
Schraeder: Still in the glass blower's shop, steals wedding gift (a glass dove and pair of glass rings). Avoids waking the glassblower. (Villainy succeeded.)
Annah: Still in the woods, scares off the tax collector and takes the tax collection. (Villainy succeeded.)
Gretel: The next night, visits the old, dying man. Pretends to be a nurse sent by the doctor to attend the dying man. Waits until he dies and captures his breath. (Villainy succeeded.)
Gabriel: The next morning. Approaches Paulina as she sets up her booth in the town square. As they are about to speak, the priest sees him and shouts at him. (Overture interrupted.)
Schraeder: That night, leaves the dove on the doorstep of Bradley, knocks on the door, then hides. A young girl, Bradley's sister, finds it an happily takes it. (Overture interrupted.)
Annah: The next day, meets Red, best hound of Geoff. Frees him from a tree that collapsed on him. Leads him home. (Overture successful.)
Gretel: Still at the old man's house, spends the night comforting the old man's daughter, Hulda. (Overture successful.)
Gabriel: Still in the town square, successfully convinces the priest (who isn't aware that the collection box has been robbed) that he is a visiting monk. Make a donation to the church. (Overture successful.)
Schraeder: The next day, ordered by the Master to kidnap someone (so the Master can capture their breath himself.)
Annah: The same day, ends Red back to Geoff with a pair of rabbits she caught earlier, lurking on the edge of the wood to watch. Geoff sees her and waves, shouting an invitation, but she retreats into the forest. (Overture successful.)
Gretel: The last breath isn't enough; the Master needs another. He doesn't have long before this previus breath fades away. Gretel is ordered by the Master to collect a last breath quickly, necessitating murder.
Gabriel: Re-approaches Paulina. Purchases her entire stock of flowers. (Overture successful.)
Schraeder: Course correction; I realize Gabriel has gone much too long without orders. Master gives him new orders: find Gabriel and tell him to kidnap someone. Accepts.
Annah: Ordered to capture the dying breath of a dog. (Failed to resist.)
Gretel: Gretel's player is frustrated, not wanting to do the order and not sure how to go about it. As she puts it, "Gretel would probably go to the kitchen and cry." Which is logical and all, but doesn't really move anything forward. After much kibitzing and frustration, Gretel bakes a poisoned pot pie and feeds a beggar. Captures his breath. (Villainy successful.) Willfully drops the flask, breaking it and losing the breath.
Gabriel: Is given new orders by Schraeder. Gives the flowers he was carrying to Schraeder. Misunderstands and decides he needs to collect some breath. Breaks into a brothel, slays a sleeping prostitute, collects her breath.
Schraeder: Dirties himself, ten takes the flowers to the church. Offers them for the upcoming funeral for the old man who just died. (Time continuity problem; the old man dies at 2c.) Tries to befriend the priest but is interrupted by (next session) (Interrupted)
Annah: Heads down to the lab and gets a vial. Angry, she trashes the lab. Not finding any other options, finds a sicky newborn puppy and suffocates it, capturing its breath. (Villainy succeeded.)
My thoughts (from that night):
- It was neat that two players immediately took to Villainy to improve their odds with their connections. A sort of misguided way of reaching out. It seems appropriate.
- I gave Gabriel's player a bit too much leash; he was too happy to go Connection hunting.
- Giving players increased freedom to pick when things happen has resulted in them being out of step. This makes it easier to accidentally create a continuity problem, and indeed I did.
- Wow, with our starting numbers it's really easy to succeed and Villainy and Violence at the beginning. As a result, Self-Loathing is going up quickly.
- It's interesting that a good plan and a great plan have the exact same chance of success.
- Having a Master whose work fundamentally requires death is problematic; it's more work to come up with suitable orders without them all requiring death.
- I didn't give players a chance to do something other than directly pursuing their missions. I forgot they were allowed; although I'm not really sure how that would work out. In the one case it might really have mattered (Gretel's preference to cry in the kitchen instead of committing a murder as ordered), even looking back on it, I have no idea how I would have handled it. Perhaps have a diceless scene in which she weeps in the kitchen and is eventually chased out by the Master?
- I've overfocused on the dying breath thing; I need to remember missions to get parts for homunculi and related things.
- Player's have incentive to thwart themselves when ordered into villainy and violence; asserts humanness and reduces self-loathing increase. Mechanically they can't do anything. Perhaps should be able to invoke intimacy, desperation, and sincerity for the other side?
- Annah's player reported not caring about being ordered to kill the puppy. Her odds of resisting the order were effectively zero, so she just gave up. She seemed really frustrated about it; not sure if the frustration is with he mechanics or the situation. The former (which she claims) is bad. The latter is appropriate.
- Gretel's player is frustrated that she got such hands-dirty work from the start. It's not what she expected her character to be doing. I may not have set player expectations well. I liked the graverobbing (it went against her clean hands) and I'm pleased with how she handled the murder. I'm not entirely pleased with having handed her the murder, especially so early. Still, a minion does what they are ordered to do.
Session 2: Sunday, June 10th, 2007
These notes are much more fragmented; I didn't take as good of notes at the session.
Schraeder: The husband of the woman whose wife died arrives in preparation for the funeral. He demands that the filthy urchin be thrown out. The priest and he have a heated discussion. Schraeder choose to remain back and avoid becoming involved. At the end, the priest asks Schraeder to leave. Schraeder re-offers the flowers for the funeral and the priest accepts them (Overture successful.)
Reset time to morning.
The group regather at the fort. A letter has arrived from Doktor Matz Durzen, another member of the Brotherhood. He will be arriving in a day or two to see Alsberg's progress. The Master panics; his lab has been trashed and Gabriel misunderstood his orders. Trying to quickly put together a demonstration, he sends his Minions out
Gretel: Ordered to clean up the lab, including several previous experiments which are contaminated. This includes several birds and rabbits. Because the experiments may be tainted, the should be burns. Accepts.
Schraeder: Order to steal the chemistry set from the town's school to replace the damaged lab. Accepts.
Annah: Ordered to acquire the stems and roots of the White Star plant; a hard to find plant. It could take her days to find it, so the Master orders he to acquire it from one of the people who search the woods for herbs. Accepts.
Gabriel: Is ordered out to collect a subject, living this time. Accepts.
Gretel: Rather mercilessly kills the animals. (Note to self: Player hates rabbits.) Violence successful.
Schraeder: Breaks into the school. Hides when a student wandering by notices the front door open and checks to see what is going on. Before the professor comes downstairs, spirits himself away. Villainy successful.
Annah: Finds Mary. Offers to trade the miscellaneous junk she has in her pockets for the White Star Mary has. Mary was ordered to get it for the Doctor (who needs it for a patient). Annah suggest lying that all of the herb had been eaten and Mary could not find any. Mary gives in, simultaneously tempted by the offering and slightly afraid of the weird woman in the forest. Villainy successful.
Gabriel: Stalks the kid taking tickets at the front door of the theater. Once everyone is in and the street is quiet, sneaks up from the side and waylays the kid before he notices. Disappears into the night. Villainy successful.
Gretel: Ordered to steal some clay from the potter. Accepts.
Schraeder: With his last pennys buys some sweet rolls at Frederick the Backers. Offers to help, perhaps by shouting how great the bakery is on the street. Frederick thanks the boy, but says he's set, but offers the boy a meat pastry. (Overture successful.)
Early evening, and night:
Annah: Hunts some game in the wood. She puts some on a long branch and leaves it anonymously at the door of Mary's parent's home. Mary's father eyes it suspiciously, but Mary thinks it came from Annah and thinks it's okay. The father decides to accept the offer. (Overture successful.)
Gabriel: Flails around, uncertain of what to do. He really wants to make an overture to the town Doctor, Josef. Overhears a conversation with Josef at the tavern; learns that the Doctor really needs the White Star plants, and that Mary failed to provide them. Visits Mary's family and convinces them to let him speak with Mary. She says the herbs were eaten, but tells him where they were. He visits the site and sees that they were harvested.
Gretel: She distracts the pottern while Gabriel pinches a bunch of clay. Villainy successful.
Annah: Ordered to steal the lightning rod from the church. Accepts
Gretel: Ordered to serve good wine, which she doesn't have. Upon learning this, the Master orders her to acquire some. Accepts.
Annah: Scales the church steeple and prys the lightning rod free. Back on the ground level, the priest happens to emerge. He asks what she is doing there, and she says she is visiting a grave. He believes her and fails to notice the lightning rod behind her. (Villainy successful)
Gretel: Is assisted by Schraeder. They visit the tavern during the day, but decline the opportunity to sneak into the cellars. Return in the evening and break in, grab the wine, and leave. The tavern keeper wakes and almost catches them, but they flee in time. (Villainy successful.)
Annah: Finds Geoff leading a quail hunting party into the woods. When he's alone for a bit, she appears and offers him advice on where to flush some quail from. He thanks her for the advice and the meat the few days earlier. Overture successful.
Gretel: Buys some basic supplies at the grocers. Asks the grocer if he would like to go on a walk later. He's taken aback, but intrigued by this woman and agrees. Overture successful.
Durzen arrives. Dinner is interrupted when a powerful storm arrives so the Master can show Durzen his experiment. He animates a freshly made clay homunculus with the breath of life simultaneously applied with a bolt of electricity (courtesy of the lightning rod). The homunculus animates. To prove the creatures free will, the Master orders it to destroy its own left arm. There is perhaps a brief pause, but it does so. Durzen, unimpressed, leaves.
Gabriel: offers to destroy the malfunctioning homunculus. The frustrated Doktor agrees The homunculus fights back, not wanting to be destroyed. The Master calls for Durzen to return to witness this. Gabriel destroys the homunculus. Durzen arrives to see the wreckage. Unimpressed, he retires to the town inn. Violence successful.
Annah: Ordered to sabotage Durzen's carriage so it will crash, killing him.
Gretel and Schraeder: Ordered to 1. steal the letter Durzen will inevitably write back to the Brotherhood, and 2. steal Durzen's journal full of his research.
Annah: Sabotage's Durzen's carriage. Durzen arrives to get his journal from it; Annah hides until he leaves. Villiany successful.
- Annah and Gretel's players feel disempowered and are giving up. They feel unable to impact the game. Gretel's player isn't pleased with her first overture (to the dead man's daughter); it "just kinda happened."
- Master needs to threaten and praise more often. Threaten Loves.
- Given the high levels of SL and the risk of the game running past its welcome, I'm very hesitant to actually kill Loves. This is problematic because it eliminates a key threat that encourages resistance.
- The scene in which Gabriel wandered around looking for the Doctor, then Mary was just a mess. I'm not quite sure what is wrong. I initially tried to frame based on the player's request (to see the Doctor in the tavern), but the player went information gathering instead of being more active. It was aimless and unsatisfying.
- I've been planing to order Gabriel to destroy another homunculus from very early on. I thought it an interesting moment for him to struggle with the realization that he was just another tool to be destroyed at will. I was hoping to make it one of his more serious orders that he would want to resist. But his player is too into playing Gabriel as tool and preemptively offered to do the destruction.