Thoughts After a Year+ of running Masks

Last night, our Monday-night gaming group wrapped up our Menagerie campaign of Masks, with the 63rd game session. (The podcast is time-shifted quite a bit – it won’t reach the end of the game until early June of 2019.)

It’s been a great run; one of my all-time favorite games, not least because we ended the thing properly, instead of simply fading out. We had pretty strong story arcs for most of the main characters (the game is, ultimately, reflective – you get out what you put in).

Most of THAT goodness can be laid squarely at the feet of the players, but I also want to recognize how much great stuff the Masks game system contributed – always pushing us toward challenging scenes and sincerely delivering the teen-super-hero drama it promises. A lot of the great stuff that came out of the game simply would not have happened without the system pushing us (me) toward tough choices and hard GM moves. I’ve said many times how much PBTA games remind me of running Amber DRPG back in the day, but the fact is, while Amber encouraged unconstrained creativity, it never pushed me out of my comfort zone – encouraged me to reach further and dig deeper, and do it all inside constraints – the way PBTA does. It’s exactly the kind of game system I need.

That’s not to say everything came off perfectly. When things go SO well, so much of the time, the moments when things don’t work or aren’t satisfying are glaring and… disappointing, for me and certainly for the involved players. Sometimes that meant a player that didn’t feel they had agency; sometimes it meant that I banged my head repeatedly on an impenetrable wall of player agency – there were more than a few times I mentally threw my hands in the air and just shifted my attention to areas I felt I’d get some input. (I don’t think this is a system issue, FWIW, unless it’s me failing to fully grok the system.)

HOWEVER, and I really mean this, those are MINOR nitpicks in the grand scheme – less than 0.3% of play – and in all cases came from a place of deep player investment in the setting and the characters. It’s HARD (and kind of dumb) for a GM to complain about THAT. 🙂

Still one of the best games I’ve played, if not THE best. It was never going to be everything to everyone, all the time, but it came pretty damn close.

A few numbers to go with my rambling.

  • 63 Masks sessions, over the course of barely more than 65 weeks, so… a bit more 16 months of play, which brings my total(s) with this group up to JUST over 100 game sessions in the last two and a half years. (30ish with Star Wars, using 3 different systems; 6 of Dungeon World, and then Masks.)
  • The sessions were each about two and half hours long, so if you want to convert that to, say, ‘classic’ 4-hour tabletop sessions, it’s ~40 sessions, which still puts it in the top three for total campaign hours run, for me.
    • Unlike the other two games in the top 3 total-hours-GMd, I would ABSOLUTELY run this game again, and in fact am currently starting up a face to face game for Kaylee and her friends.
  • We saw “paragon of the city” retiring for two of the original five characters (the Doomed (who came within 3 or four tics of their Doom before resolving it) and Bull), and two more were entirely ready (mechanically) to take that same route near the end of the game, and simply didn’t because we only had a few sessions left.
  • In my estimation, all the original five characters had pretty solid personal arcs. The ‘replacement’ characters for the retirees didn’t, quite, but that was mostly because I was focusing on the arcs for the non-retired. Those characters still certainly grew, albeit via a lot of PbP-style forum posting.

I love our group, but divorced from THAT, I’d say that five players is juuuuust about one too many (for me, at least) to give everyone a consistent share of the spotlight every session. I started using a kind of ‘buddy system’ near the end of the game, and that helped, but it came awfully late. Put that on the limitations of the GM, if you like, but I’m still not sure sure 3-4 players isn’t the sweet spot for the game. YMMV.

There’s a TON of other thoughts I have about running the game itself, but they’re the kinds of observations that can’t easily be listed out – it’s more about organic observations about particular playbooks or moves.

Use Take a Powerful Blow more; have adults shift labels more. There. Those are the easy ones.

What’s Next?

We’ll meet next week to narrow down choices, get things set up during the holidays, and kick off 2019 with a brand new game. Not sure what, but I’m looking forward to it.

Or I will be – right now I’m kind of going through “good book hangover,” and feeling a nice happy-sad.