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Author Topic: [Capes] Skater X and letting go  (Read 3990 times)
TonyLB
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« on: September 12, 2004, 11:27:44 AM »

Had an impromptu playtest last night, which meant I had about five minutes to prepare villains and plot.  Turns out not to have mattered much.

Two players, Danny and Seth.  Seth plays Cyborg, a former athlete who (because of a medical condition) got built into a superhero.  Now nobody wants to let him compete, because it's just not fair.

Danny's character (Justin) is romancing Arly, Cyborg's younger sister.  Cyborg doesn't think Justin is good enough for her.  Justin spontaneously invites Arly to see him skate at a competition that night.  Cyborg is incensed.

So here I am, writing up a scene with the villain coming in to do some Clobbering, his punk gang (humiliated earlier in the story) back for vengeance, and a mystic artifact in the balance.  And Danny says "Oh, and of course we need Skateboard Competition as a Complication".

"Okay," say I, trying to roll with the punches, "The scene is at the skate park.  Justin's there to skate, Arly's there to watch Justin, Cyborg's there to watch Arly.  Cyborg recognizes some of the gang members he beat on earlier that morning, boasting about how they got out on bail."

"Yeah, gang members," Seth says with obvious disinterest.  "I want to stake Love on the Skate Competition.  I'm going to show Arly that this Justin creep isn't a real athlete.  Not like me."

"You're getting in the skate competition?" I ask in sudden surprise.

"Yeah," Seth says, "I'm using my Gadgets power.  Rollerblades pop out of my feet."

"Oh God," I think in quiet panic.  "I need to get Arly involved in this whole mess as more than a spectator, and I have no idea how to do so."

Danny, in a moment of spectacular unconscious serendipity says (just then) "I'm using a Story Token to introduce Skater X, the masked skateboarder.  Nobody knows who he is, but his skills are beyond compare.  Justin has been trying for years to beat Skater X in a competition, or even just to find out who he is."

I take a deep breath and try not to break out laughing.   "Okay," I say, "The skate contest is starting."

"Arly's watching, right?" Danny asks immediately.  I inform him that Arly went off somewhere in search of snacks, but that she is definitely around here somewhere.  I then inform him that Skater X has just been spotted entering the skate park.  For a miracle my poker face holds, and neither Seth nor Danny twig to the suspicious conjunction of those two events.

The skate contest starts.  The huge villain emerges and starts taking pot-shots at everybody.  Both Complications run simultaneously, with people working hard to make their attacks blend in well with their grinds and tricks.  It was a hoot!  The huge many-armed robotic villain was used as an "Extreme Obstacle" not once or twice but so constantly that they must have left tire-marks on every square inch of him.

In Skate Contest, Justin was trying desperately to beat Skater X "fairly" (i.e. without resorting subtly to superpowers).  Cyborg, on the other hand, had pulled out all the stops, firing energy weapons directly AT Skater X, and generally violating all of the rules of good sportsmanship.  Through common agreement (and the early resolution of the "Public Opinion" Complication) it was decided that people enjoyed the light show enough not to worry about this.

However, as Cyborg and Justin came close to pushing Skater X decisively out of the running, Danny muttered "This just isn't right."  Then again, more firmly, "This isn't right.  Justin doesn't want to win this way."

I think he had a pretty decent chance at winning.  He was heavily emotionally staked in winning.  He deliberately threw it away, tossing his support to Skater X.  As the masked skater was about to fall of his board (having been singed by a near miss from Cyborg) Justin sacrificed position and speed to push his nemesis back up onto his board.

"Skater X's body seems somewhat softer and more rounded than you would have thought," I say in an aside to Danny.  Then I do a few back and forths of combat with Seth.  When I look back at Danny he's still looking a little dazed, with a sly knowing smile on his lips.  I assume (correctly, I later discovered) that he had just made the connection and realized who Skater X really was.

As the police arrest the battered villains, Cyborg (through what can only be described as egregious and unsportsmanlike use of superpowers) wins the Skate Contest.  Danny chides Seth in a friendly way.  Seth doesn't care.  He won, and that's what mattered to him.  He adds several "insult to injury" bonusses to his win, setting off a laser light show and indoor pyrotechnics display to celebrate his victory.

I end the session with a scene of Skater X (having pulled the typical "Mysterious Disappearance") in an alley.  The skater pulls of his mask to reveal Cyborg's younger sister, Arly, her face flushed with anger and stained with tears.  Fade to black, roll credits.

It takes Seth about twenty seconds to manage his first "No..."  Then louder, and repeated, "No!"  If only she'd told him, why didn't she just tell him, how was he to know, he didn't want to win against her, or if he did win he wanted it to be fair, she should really have won, he should never have cheated...

Having been here on the Forge gives me the mental vocabulary to actually express what pleased me so much about this sequence.  Justin and Cyborg made choices that powerfully addressed the games premise ("Power is fun, but do you deserve it?").  Related, I think, is that they faced crises that struck me as very human.  These seemed like the kind of decisions I face, just writ large by the extremity of the conditions.

Justin wanted to win with honor, and eventually had to decide which he wanted more, the win or the honor.  Cyborg enjoyed dehumanizing his enemies, and being free to do whatever he wanted because they had no rights, but then had to confront the consequences of his actions when one of his enemies turned out to have a human face for him after all.

And I'm fascinated by the fact that my original story idea (hurried as it was) acted only as a structure on which the baroque trellis-vine of the actual story grew and flourished.  I really like seeing that happen, even if it's sometimes hard to let go of the notion that my story is supposed to be "the important one".
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LordSmerf
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« Reply #1 on: September 12, 2004, 02:29:18 PM »

Tony,

I must say that this single play session has sold me on splitting dice and changing sides.  I am still somewhat interested in the idea of not getting to roll any dice unless you stake, but i am not so sure about that one.  I will probably bring it up over in game design...

Thomas
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: September 12, 2004, 04:28:05 PM »

Hiya,

And that is definitely what playtesting is for. Tony, now that you know what the game can do, or rather, what emotions and goals get engaged while playing it, you are all set to write up two major things: (1) the introduction to the game, and (2) a major example of play. That #2 should, in my view, focus very specifically on how the GM does contribute in-game content (Skater X is the sister) but does not predetermine the heroes ethical positioning relative to that, or any, content.

And God knows that such text is still terra incognita, for all of us, so good luck.

Best,
Ron
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #3 on: September 12, 2004, 05:32:57 PM »

I'm smiling like a mad person as I write this.

No substantive comment, just fanboy raving.
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LordSmerf
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« Reply #4 on: September 12, 2004, 06:34:12 PM »

Quote from: TonyLB
"Arly's watching, right?" Danny asks immediately.  I inform him that Arly went off somewhere in search of snacks, but that she is definitely around here somewhere.  I then inform him that Skater X has just been spotted entering the skate park.  For a miracle my poker face holds, and neither Seth nor Danny twig to the suspicious conjunction of those two events.


This, to me, is utterly amazing.  I do not believe i would have the audacity to attempt it since i would be so sure that it would be seen through.  But that is the beauty of it, it is so obvious that people will move on.

what is even cooler is that the story unfolded, and this was what it was all about.  I just have this secret hope that (which seems supported by your reports) that both players were blindsided.  It was simply awesome that you were able to weave it all together in such a way that those choices had significant consequences for the characters.

Thomas
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #5 on: September 12, 2004, 06:53:50 PM »

Wait. I actually had substantive thoughts!

Quote from: TonyLB
I'm fascinated by the fact that my original story idea (hurried as it was) acted only as a structure on which the baroque trellis-vine of the actual story grew and flourished.
Quote


This (to use my favorite framework) is the reversal of "A Plot" and "B Plot": The action-adventure stuff vs. the antagonists turns out to be less important than what's ostensibly sideplay among the protagonists. Buffy did this all the time. It's great.

Quote from: TonyLB
.... Justin sacrificed position and speed to push his nemesis back up onto his board.... The skater pulls of his mask to reveal Cyborg's younger sister, Arly, her face flushed with anger and stained with tears. ...


Now, here's a serious mechanics question (which is off topic for the Indie Design thread, so I'll keep it here):

By any logic, Arly should now be pissed at her brother and pleased with Justin. So mechanically Cyborg should come out of this with some kind of nasty penalty in future dealings with his sister, and Justin with some kind of bonus.

But does the current system support that? Cyborg presumably won the Complication and thus is the only guy taking away an Inspiration for later use. (Unless there was a "Be Nice to Skater X" complication that you didn't mention, which would be awkward).

One thought: Allow the losing side to get an Inspiration too -- not nearly as big as the winner's, but still proportional to the Stakes. This allows for the defeated side to carry a grudge, acting as a bonus to their next attempt at revenge (Arly would have one of these vs. Cyborg), or for an honorable defeat to improve a loser's reputation (Justin would have one of these towards Arly).
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TonyLB
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« Reply #6 on: September 12, 2004, 09:33:31 PM »

Okay, here's the short answer:  The mechanical bonus Cyborg wins is useful in continuing the cause-and-effect Adventure aspect of the story.  But the massive debt that Arly picked up (nine... yes nine points in Pride) is useful in continuing the theme-linked Moral aspect of the story.


And here's the long answer:  If the game had continued, I feel that Skater X would have had to attempt to operate on a super-powered level.  There's no other way to recover her pride, once super-powers were so integral to her downfall.  Mechanically, she's got to find places to Stake Pride, or she's going to be overdrawn forever.

I think Arly might have either tried foolishly to become a superhero or bitterly turned to crime, using her Skating Skills to rob banks, equip herself with super-gadgets and so on.

I'd have just loved to see that latter one in action.  Justin has good reason to suspect Skater X's identity... but if he faces Skater X in his super-powered identity as Bonegrinder, the modern werewolf, he can't really let slip that he has ever met Skater X before.  So you can establish a bank robbery scene where the hero doesn't want to catch the villain (and probably won't).

Then you could have a scene where Justin tries to talk to Arly, but he can't admit either his secret identity or hers, so can he really even talk about the situation?  Does he have any way of approaching this problem that doesn't result in Arly going to jail?

And does he go to Arly's obnoxious brother?  Cyborg is a natural ally in the fight to save Arly's soul, but at the same time the Justin-Cyborg relationship stinks on ice.  Maybe Bonegrinder can talk with Cyborg where Justin cannot.
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #7 on: September 13, 2004, 07:37:12 AM »

Quote from: TonyLB
... the massive debt that Arly picked up (nine... yes nine points in Pride) ...


Pride isn't a Drive available to heroes, as I recall -- so Arly is already defined as having villainous Drives? (You've never formally defined these that I've seen, but I think I recall Pride being one). That seems either to prejudge the question of her moral nature or to point to an inflexibility in the definitions.
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TonyLB
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« Reply #8 on: September 13, 2004, 07:43:50 AM »

Well, strictly speaking Arly didn't have Pride, the Editor's single pool of villainous debt had a lot of Pride.  But yeah, when Skater X was using powers against the PCs it was ramping up debts in the villainous drives (which, in my ad-hoc as-yet-unfinished version of villainous drives are: Pride, Need, Despair, Power and Dogma).

I don't know whether that's what I want the rule system to do long term, but it's what it did in that test, and I think (again, in that test) it worked out okay.
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #9 on: September 13, 2004, 08:16:19 AM »

Quote from: TonyLB
Well, strictly speaking Arly didn't have Pride, the Editor's single pool of villainous debt had a lot of Pride.


Gotcha. I think, though, especially if you're having individual players take over playing individual villains, that people will find a "big pool of debt for all villains" less emotionally engaging or intellectually logical than individual pools for each Major Character, hero or villain.

Plus there's the whole issue of "villainous drives" and their possible evolution into/out of heroic drives, a huge can of worms that defeated us once before, as I recall....
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TonyLB
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« Reply #10 on: September 13, 2004, 08:19:07 AM »

That's true.  Although you can have a lot of fun with just choosing grab-bag from both the heroic and villainous drives.

Like Skater X would have Pride, Hope, Love, Truth and Need.
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Bill_White
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« Reply #11 on: September 13, 2004, 10:18:23 AM »

Quote from: TonyLB
That's true.  Although you can have a lot of fun with just choosing grab-bag from both the heroic and villainous drives.

Like Skater X would have Pride, Hope, Love, Truth and Need.


Cool.  Based on how you described the playtest, it seems to me that this is exactly right, and that it will be important in order to make the game address the premise --- "Do your deserve your power?" --- to revisit the question of transitioning between mirror-image villainous and heroic drives, because unless heroes can fail and fail, and villains reform and redeem themselves, the question can't be answered.

So I like Doug's idea of making the amount you commit to each Drive essentially a pool of tokens that you use to activate your powers; activating your powers without a token requires you to become overdrawn, which makes losing a Complication more risky.

But losing a Complication that you've staked a token on (that you've committed to, in other words, to get your own die) should be automatically risky, as in suffering a permanent loss to that Drive.  A hero can turn into a villain, or maybe just a hero with feet of clay, once enough Drives are reduced to negative and so transform into their opposite.

But this is so obvious it's probably been brought up before and dismissed for reasons of practicality somewhere where I missed it.  But maybe it could be reconsidered?
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