The Unmasking

The game I’ve been playing for over a year, colloquially known as “Monday Masks”, is coming to an end. I don’t know if it’ll be in two sessions or twenty. So what should I make of all this?

If you’ve read anything (and I mean anything) that I’ve had to say about this game, you know that it’s been a big blessing in my life. So the hot take would be “what the fuck”, followed by a series of knee-jerk comments about why this is frustrating or scary or painful. And you might say “well it’s just a game”, but I’ve seen sports fans literally rioting in the streets when their team loses, or even wins, so I hope you’ll forgive me if I have at least a bit of emotion about this.

What works

The thing that this particular Masks game gave me, which has been missing from almost every other game ever, has been the feeling that my PCs’ lives matter beyond their adventuring career. I got to indulge in forum cutscenes where characters would chat over coffee, go on dates (or talk about it anyway), work through home finances, talk philosophy, and all the other things that regular human people do. And this is amazing! I didn’t just feel like "the generic Ranger" or “the Gunslinger with the tragic backstory”. I played characters who were people. And I greatly fear that any other game won’t capture that same magic.

The character interactions were, and continue to be, fantastic. I felt like some of our PCs didn’t always connect as well as they could, but I always felt like there was opportunity for it and that was good. Characters spilled their guts to each other, shared secrets, quarreled, cooperated, and more. The core struggles were always recognizable and motivating.

There’s enough independent momentum to some of the stories that I could probably continue them on my own. For example, I could retell Link and the Newmans in a different context, carrying forward several of the same plots or elements. I don’t know who would be interested in reading such stuff, but this is one of those plots I feel motivated enough to write without an audience.

What doesn’t work

The game has been consistently frustrating in its inability to just close off a plot line. It felt like we’d lock onto some plot point and just keep coming back to it over and over again. The plotlines we didn’t just keep repeating would kind of float in the background, and get forgotten. That led to a lot of stuff piling up in the background, and it meant that we sort of lost focus on what we ought to be chasing down.

Aside from that, I felt like spotlight management was challenging. One character would go off and have a scene, then another character, but it felt unusual where two or even three PCs would all be key to a scene. The party was frequently split, in ways we couldn’t easily remedy. The result was very little time for any given player - which I feel was one of the driving forces that led some of us to do side scenes on the forums.

I get the impression that I’m the person in the group who had the most problem with this. My feeling is that plots should target two or three PCs, rather than having one plotline per PC. Based on what I’ve heard on the voice chat, though, other players preferred the 1:1 PC to plot style.

Conclusion

I really wish these stories could continue. I like the players, I like the characters, and I like the game. But I agree that sometimes a break, or a housecleaning, or just a change, is important. I don’t know if this will help solve any of the issues I raise here, but it’s at least a chance.

We talked about some post-Masks options, as one-shot/short-duration palate cleansers:

  • Other game genres, e.g. gritty crime (Blades in the Dark, the “Solo” movie) or wuxia
  • A Dungeon World game where we’re playing fantasy equivalents of our characters (or more meta, our characters playing an RPG)
  • Some kind of zombie or apocalypse game (something not all the players seem on board with?)

Past that, I suggested a campaign that was a time-skip ahead of our current Masks universe, e.g. PCs who were descended from or inspired by our original characters. My original PC, Link, is canonically getting married and having a kid, so there’s room for that sort of thing. It was suggested that I’d want to play Link’s child in that kind of game, but honestly I’d find it far more flattering if someone else did (as well, or instead). Ultimately, we’ll see where everyone wants to go.

The game isn’t over yet, and I’m looking forward to having more fun with it.