Reading Group: Being Max Møller

It’s been long since I posted here – far, far too long. I’d decided that my next post was going to be this review of the scenario, Being Max Møller, for the reading group. Not getting that done, however, meant that I didn’t want to post something else. Sigh. Yeah, I am silly.

At one point, I was going on a long trip , so I thought I’d just print it out, and read it on the way. I changed my plans though, when I saw the page count: 150 pages! As I found later, this was because the game includes an entire scenario. Yes, it is in itself an entire scenario – but it includes an extra scenario as a handout. Welcome to metaland.

The lure  of the gilded penguin

Fastaval is about many things. It is about boardgames and beer and networking and being confirmed in your belonging to a certain group. But the centrepiece of the party is of course the roleplaying: the many scenarios that tens of people spend weeks of their life concocting, for no better reward than perhaps a nod of recognition from someone in the bar.

Of course, there is also the chance that you might go home with your bag weighted down with a gilded plaster penguin…

The story behind Being Max Møller is apparently this: Max Møller (the author behind Being Max Møller) wanted to win an Otto, and wasn’t succeding. Thus, he wrote a scenario that had the players work frantically throughout the game to ensure, through mostly less-than-honest means, that he would win an Otto. For this, he received an Otto. I would have liked to be there when he got his Otto.

In general, I would have liked to be at Fastaval that year – because it is clear to me, on reading this scenario, how much I missed out on by not playing this scenario.

“But surely you could still play this game?”

No. No, I couldn’t. No more could I play this scenario than all the war enthusiasts in the world could fight the Battle of Gettysburg.

See, the thing is: this scenario is firmly in the realm of satire. It lampoons the Fastaval of its day, describing the Fastaval that was then, with the key players of then. Nowadays, Fastaval shares some of those features, and some of those people are still around. But it is not the same place, nor is it the same crowd of people. Some scenarios, just like some books and films, are timeless, speaking to people regardless of the specific set of circumstances they find themselves in. Others may be immensely popular in their time, but carry such a connection to the milieu that fostered them that they are obsolete the year after. And Being Max Møller belongs firmly in the second group.

Long time ago, in a place just around the corner

Regarded purely as a scenario, Being Max Møller has one advantage over all the games the reading group has read until now: it puts its players square in the location they are already in. No need to create or communicate a strange, potentially otherworldly locale – the GM can simply refer to “the bar,” and everyone in the room will remember it, albeit slightly hazily, from when they were there the night before. Max Møller, instead of creating an unknown location out of known elements, mixes something unknown into an already known location. This is a trick that works very well, as far as I can discern without having been at the Fastaval in question.

And with that location comes a set of dramatis personae; a cast of people who are already there. Here, Max Møller steps on more shaky ground. It is clear that many of the descriptions of characters contain jabs at the real life people mentioned – some are clearly good humoured, some strike me as quite nasty. Both often seem to (ab)use the medium of the scenario to get at these people, without the attack neccesarily benefitting the game.

The player characters are a set of (back then, some still) well known people, with the common denominator being that they are people who have been denied the Otto they desperately crave(d). They are presented by lengthy interviews with the person, detailing their relation with roleplaying games and the entire community around Fastaval. And frankly, this is the weakest part of the game. The interviews are looong and not terribly interesting in themselves, and give little to attach a good portrayal of the person in the actual game.

The game won the Otto for best effects, and one can see why. The first scene consists of the GM handing one player an entire, very long winded, 75 page scenario, take the persona of a disgruntled player, and watch the player fry – awesome!

Apart from that, the scenario requires players to periodically wear a mask of Max Møllers face – and at the actual playthrough, everybody got up at a certain part in the game, wore the masks in the café at Fastaval, while the actual person, Max Møller, lived through a perplexing reenactment of the “Malcovich in his subconscious”-scene from the film that the scenario is (of course) loosely inspired by. Boy, I’d wish I’d been there.

All in all

When readin through it, Being Max Møller is somthing of a mess. The story of the scenario is not overly clear, and more things are supposed to happen than any gamemaster can possibly be expected to keep on top off, while also managing their players’ crazy ideas.

It doesn’t matter, though. For me, the brilliant thing in reading the scenario was the way it put me into the mindset of a Fastaval from before my time (even if is not even ten years ago). I had feelings of “Oh, was it really like that?” “Oh, they hadn’t done THAT yet” and “Oh, it’s still like that!” all mixed together. I doubt I would ever want to play Being Max Møller – I hardly think I could understand it. On the other hand, I hope someone writes a similar game about Fastaval now – THAT I would want to play.

What can we learn from this?

  • Roleplaying can definitely be used for satire. It’s a genre that can be a great success – just don’t expect it to last through the ages.
  • Using locations that  are already known to the players makes it possible to give them a better sense of the strangeness of something, just as it makes it easier to create a common picture of what it looks like.

Who should play this?

Wow, good question. Erhm. Noone? I think people who were there will get the greatest sense of enjoyment out of it.

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One response to this post.

  1. […] any case this game is a refreshing change from scenarios like Being Max Møller (150 pages). It constitutes a remarkable achievement – in particular considering the fact […]

    Reply

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