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Author Topic: [Capes] Unresolved Complications  (Read 3596 times)
TonyLB
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« on: September 15, 2004, 11:36:52 AM »

The current text of Capes is here.

The system represents situations as a set of Complications.  Heroes and villains can place Stakes on these Complications, to represent their moral investment in how things turn out.  They benefit if they win the Complication, and suffer if they lose it, in direct proportion to their Stakes.

The current rules require all Complications to resolve.  A Scene doesn't end until the Complications have resolved.  Unfortunately this often means spending a lot of time resolving things after the Scene should (by all rights) have already ended.  It slows down the progress of the game.

We've had a lot of discussion (a lot) about the prospect of keeping unresolved Complications hanging around as Issues.  Nobody ever figured out how to make it work.

But Thomas brought up a point in discussing the possibility of adding a "neutral die" to the Complications, and I'd like to isolate it and explore it.  I propose that Complications don't need to resolve.  Specifically:
    [*]When a Page (essentially a Round) ends with the Victory Target for the scene met, no further pages occurs in that scene.[*]Any Complications that do not have Stakes resolve according to their current Control levels.[*]Any Complications with Stakes do not resolve.[*]Stakes are handed back, with neither benefit nor penalty accruing.[*]Nobody gains future advantage (i.e. Inspirations)[*]In the story this means that something interrupted the conflict before anything was decided.[/list:u]
    Quote from: Example #1
    Information complication resolves, ending the scene.  Romance complication (with Stakes) does not resolve:

    Marcus:  Why, when I saw you tied to that obelisk, Peggy Marie, I thought...
    Peggy Marie:  Yes?
    Marcus:  I realized that I... I...
    Peggy Marie:  YES???
    Marcus:  Peggy Marie, I lo...
    Professor:  Wait!  That's it!  The obelisk is the key!  Marcus, we must get to the mid-town museum immediately!  Time is of the essence!
    Marcus:  Now?  Prof, I was just in the middle of...
    Professor:  Of!  The!  Essence!
    Marcus:  Alright... <sigh>... let's go.

    Quote from: Example #2
    Red Menace and Captain Liberty break to open combat against each other (over ideology, of course) in the early game.  They both stake three Justice on Clobbering against each other.  

    Bystanders are endangered by the villain, and they both leap to help.  Resolving that Complication ends the scene, interrupting their super-powered slugfest in its tracks.

    Red Menace:  I will not waste my time upon you while the People need my strength!
    Captain Liberty:  Agreed!  There is plenty of time to show you the error of your ways after Nuclear Winter and his Isotope Band are defeated.
    Red Menace:  A truce, until then?
    Captain Liberty:  And not a moment longer.

    They take back their three tokens in Justice.  In the fight against Nuclear Winter's fiendish plot, both Red Menace and Captain Liberty work off these Tokens on other ideological battles.  When the Epilogue arrives, neither of them has a Justice Token to their name.

    Captain Liberty:  I misjudged you, Menace.  Whatever your mistaken ideals, you are a true friend of the people.  I would not fight someone that I have come to think I would be proud to call a friend.
    Red Menace:  Nor would I strike a man I would be glad to call comrade.
    Captain Liberty:  [wincing]  Don't use that word, alright?
    Red Menace: "Comrade"?  It's a perfectly normal word, everyone uses it.
    Captain Liberty:  But when you say it I know you're thinking something else.
    Red Menace:  Oh, so now you can read minds?  You just...

    fade to black


    So... is this crazy?  Or might it actually work as a way to both create unresolved tensions and to speed the end-game of a Scene?
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    LordSmerf
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    « Reply #1 on: September 15, 2004, 03:31:19 PM »

    Very interesting.  I will go ahead an appoint myself as Devil's Advocate here.  What about Complications that demand immediate attention?  The burning orphanage, in which you have Staked 2 Hope is unresolved when i defeat the Villains plot to rob the bank...  I get those two Debt tokens back and we pretend the fire never happened?

    Thomas
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    TonyLB
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    « Reply #2 on: September 15, 2004, 05:37:43 PM »

    I really don't know.  That's the question that's been preying on my mind too.  Here's my initial thoughts.  I'm not at all sure I'm satisfied by them.

    The downside on Bystanders is pretty obvious.  The question that's bouncing around in my mind is "What is the predicted upside to the hero winning the Complication, and what (therefore) can be done that permits neither the upside nor the downside to happen?"

    Essentially, if any Complication becomes a situation where heroic victory is defined by nothing more than the absence of villainous victory, the "unresolved complication" system is going to take a beating.  But I think that story-drama takes a beating too.  I think most of the time heroic victory is about something more than "stopping the bad guys".  

    If the heroes expected to be praised and respected for saving the orphans (for example) I could see the orphans being rescued by someone else as a suitable interruption.

    Quote from: Example #3
    Clobbering resolves, ending the scene.  Bystanders (with Stakes) is unresolved.

    Newscaster:  In the midst of a superpowered combat in mid-town today, firefighters raced to rescue the occupants of the burning Santa Maria Orphanage.  While the children are all accounted for, five fire-fighters are in nearby Mount Sinai hospital, in critical condition.  The families of the fire-fighters have requested that any flowers and cards be coordinated through "Mundane Heroism Charities", at 1-800-....


    Sydney (I'm pretty sure) recommended an explicit phase where this is defined for a Complication.  That would address some of these issues, but it also restrains people from realizing/discovering what the Complication is about during play, which is something I rather like.
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    LordSmerf
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    « Reply #3 on: September 16, 2004, 09:43:56 AM »

    The question then becomes: how do you know which outcome happens?  Editor decision?  I can see that working, but it puts the power of "tone" very much in the Editor's hands.  Basically the Editor can influence (quite powerfully) how dark the world is since he can choose "The orphans die" vs. "The orphans are saved by someone else".

    Not that it would not work, but it would change the narrative dynamic.

    Thomas
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    TonyLB
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    « Reply #4 on: September 16, 2004, 09:50:29 AM »

    No, I miscommunicated.  The issue is not "The orphans die" vs. "the orphans are rescued by someone else".

    If the Complication is "The orphans die" vs. "Heroes rescue the orphans and become famous" then the trick is to provide neither of these options.  "The orphans are rescued by someone else" was an example of how you could do that.
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    Doug Ruff
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    « Reply #5 on: September 16, 2004, 10:15:21 AM »

    I think there is a link here between this 'Bystanders complication unresolved' problem and the 'Conversational Dominance' problem from the Actual Play thread.

    The Bystanders complication not resolving before the end of a scene is a problem; Conversational Dominance resolving too early in the other scene was also a problem.

    If I may suggest, this is because there should be a clear difference between a Complication and a Goal. I think I've brought this up before, but it's especially pertinent here.

    Let's assume that there is a bank raid in progress. The Goal of the Villains is to 'escape with the loot'. The aim of the Heroes is to 'arrest the Villains'. This is the key conflict of the Scene.

    My feeling is that the Scene ends when this conflict resolves. Any other Complications are just that - Complications.

    So, where does this leave the Bystanders? A truly evil Villain isn't going to care about whether bystanders get hurt or not, therefore a Bystanders Complication is only a Complication for the Heroes! If they fail to resolve the Complication before the key conflict (and therefore the Scene) resolves, then they have 'lost' the Complication. How they lose it (dead bystanders, or they rescue themselves, or they are rescued by a third party) is a matter of style.

    Therefore the Villain should pay for this Complication. He's deliberately endangering the Bystanders, as a way of slowing down the Heroes.

    I'm not sure yet how the Villain should pay for this (Prominence? Mayhem Points?) but as long as there is a way for the Villain to chuck stuff like this at the Heroes, then I'm sure he'll use it!

    Would like opnions on whether this is a sound concept before I get all excited about it, though.

    Regards,

    Doug
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    TonyLB
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    « Reply #6 on: September 16, 2004, 12:53:11 PM »

    What happens if the players decide they are less interested in stopping the villain from escaping than in saving the bystanders?

    Is this a valid choice for them to make, leading to a story just as entertaining as if they view the villain as the most important thing and the bystanders as only a hindrance to arresting the villain?
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    Doug Ruff
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    « Reply #7 on: September 16, 2004, 01:05:38 PM »

    Quote from: TonyLB
    What happens if the players decide they are less interested in stopping the villain from escaping than in saving the bystanders?


    That's exactly the point - there are now two conflicts (dice on each side of a card) for the Heroes to choose from. They can take their turn attempting to save the Bystanders (and roll up their side of this Complication) or they can further the main Goal of nabbing the Villains (and roll up their side of the 'key conflict') but they can't do both during the same action.

    And IMHO, it's a totally valid choice. If the Villains get away as a result, then it's time to look for clues and track them back to their Secret Vilainous HQ - I don't see a problem with that!

    Used this way, coplications are a way of extending the overall story, without necessarily extending an individual session of conflict (which still ends when the Goal resolves.)

    Regards,

    Doug
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    TonyLB
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    « Reply #8 on: September 16, 2004, 02:00:23 PM »

    Yes, but if they're far behind on Bystanders, and they let the villain escape to try to save them... doesn't that resolve the Bystanders, fricaseeing all the orphans?
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    Doug Ruff
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    « Reply #9 on: September 16, 2004, 10:31:10 PM »

    Very good point, Tony. I missed that consequence (Doh!)

    Another way of considering this is if the Heroes decide that rescuing the Bystanders is more important, they have switched (or split) their Goal!

    Maybe Staking becomes the answer now:

    At the start of a Scene, define the Goal - this is a conflict between the Heroes and Villains, or Hero and GM. All parties to the Scene must stake on this conflict, because it's important to them.

    If a complication is played against the Heroes (such as Bystanders) then each Hero must decide, whether or not it's important to them. If so, they must stake on that conflict as well, and spend their next turn attempting to control or resolve the new Complication.

    If the Goal conflict resolves, all unresolved Complications end unless the Stake on a Complication is at least half the size of the Stake on the Goal. This means that the Heroes 'did enough' to keep the situation in check.

    Extra rule: whenever a Goal or Complication resolves, the last player to control it wins all the tokens staked on it. If a Complication 'fades' because there wasn't enough staked on it, all these tokens are lost.

    Is this better?

    Regards,

    Doug
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    TonyLB
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    « Reply #10 on: September 17, 2004, 05:41:54 AM »

    Hard for me to say before I see it in action.  The dynamics are diverging enough from what I know that my intuition is flailing.  Sometime this afternoon (when I've a solid block of time) I will sit down and create a solo-playtest example using these rules.  I'll probably make a new thread for that, since Scene Goals have diverged a bit from unresolved complications.

    In the meantime, I'd like to take another swing at unresolved complications.

    The problem, as I see it, is that in the story some Complications are "Something has to happen" and some Complications are "Something could happen".  Interrupting the latter is easy (and often very good for the story), interrupting the former is hard.

    I'd like to get the story goodness of interrupting Complications that beg for it, so I'm puzzling about whether the "interruption" (as described in the story) can be tweaked so that it does a good-enough job for Complications that don't take to it naturally.  This might not take much in the way of tweaking the mechanics, but rather in tweaking what they mean to the narrative.

    The burning orphans are, in fact, not even the most explicit version of this.  The huge Thermo-Isotopic Doomsday Device with a giant digital countdown marching toward the destruction of the city is the one that sticks in my mind.  Only the heroes can stop it, and if they don't it goes off.

    So, new angle:  Is "Thermo-Isotopic Doomsday Device" a legitimate Complication?  Or should it be "Villainous Plans of Destruction"?  Because if it's Villainous Plans of Destruction, and Doomsday Device is just the situation implied by that Complication then it can go unresolved... the heroes stop the bomb, but it turns out not to have been the full extent of the villains plans.

    Likewise, for "Bystanders":  If the villains resolve the Complication then it is proven that Bystanders will get hurt in this town.  If the heroes resolve it then it goes toward proving that Bystanders will be protected.  If it is unresolved then the orphans manage to escape but in a way that leaves everyone filled with fear about the future.

    So that's what I've got this morning.  As always, I may well be talking nonsense and not know it.
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    Doug Ruff
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    « Reply #11 on: September 17, 2004, 01:18:07 PM »

    Quote from: TonyLB
    So, new angle:  Is "Thermo-Isotopic Doomsday Device" a legitimate Complication?  Or should it be "Villainous Plans of Destruction"?  Because if it's Villainous Plans of Destruction, and Doomsday Device is just the situation implied by that Complication then it can go unresolved... the heroes stop the bomb, but it turns out not to have been the full extent of the villains plans.


    I think it's a major Goal. This is the sort of thing that I would expect to see at the end of a Story (I see a Story of consisting of several Scenes;each Scene has a Goal; Complications to that Goal could be introduced during any Scene. That's my reference point, which may be different to yours, but that may be another topic!)

    If the Heroes stop the Doomsday Device, time to wrap up this edition of the comic - but a good Villain is always going to come back with another evil plan, so the Series (colection of linked Stories?) isn't over yet.

    As for the Complications/conflicts themselves, there appear to be several different categories at work here:

    - Must resolve in this Scene (the ticking bomb, also IMHO Bystanders)
    - Will resolve or 'fizzle' in this Scene (we've discussed this happening for less important Complications, but I'm stuck for an actual example right now of what a less important Complication would look like)
    - May resolve over several scenes (we haven't talked about this much, but some 'relationship' Complications may take more time, for example, the relationship between Captain Liberty and the Red Menace.) These are 'interrupted' when a Goal is achieved (ending the Scene) but they carry over to the next Scene.
    - Resolves over several scenes, and defines the story (this is what the Victory Point mechanic currently achieves. I think of this as a meta-complication)

    Then it's mainly a trick of deciding which Complications fit which description. I think...

    Regards,

    Doug
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    TonyLB
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    « Reply #12 on: September 17, 2004, 02:13:30 PM »

    Doug, I see a lot of potential in Scene Goals.  But I don't yet understand the dynamic they will create.  Given that four posts ago I had to point out a major consequence of the rule to you, I don't think you yet understand the dynamic they will create either.

    Given that, I don't think we can profitably discuss how they'll impact other questions yet.  I'm going to ask again that we shelve discussion of them in theory until there is an example of play showing how they work in practice.  If you want to write up that example of play, go ahead.  You can probably do it more easily and more clearly than I.  Otherwise I'll get to it when I can get to it.

    So assuming familiar old Complications with no rules changes...  if the Complication is "Villainous Plot of Destruction" and "Ticking Doomsday Device" is just the situation implied, does that seem more open to being interrupted and unresolved if necessary?
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    Sydney Freedberg
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    « Reply #13 on: September 17, 2004, 02:18:42 PM »

    I think Tony's onto something, to whit, that the problems we're having with unresolved Complications might be resolved by defining Complications more clearly -- though I'm not sure the way sketched out in his post above is necessarily the right way to do it.

    One thing that just struck me as I starting writing this, though, is that when we talk about burning buildings and ticking time-bombs being Complications that are impossible to interrupt, we're getting hung up on in-game time -- which is a classic Simulationist concern (see GURPS on study, or AD&D on spell research) but not necessarily relevant to a Narrativist game like Capes (or to put it differently, a game that simulates story structure rather than physics). After all, uncontrolled Complications start to resolve when the Victory Point total of a scene is reached: Utter nonsense in physical or tactical terms, pure logic in story terms.

    Four score and twenty threads ago, someone (maybe me) said, 'of course the orphanage can't burn forever,' to which someone (maybe Tony) replied, 'are you sure'?

    In story logic, the ticking time-bomb or the burning building can be interrupted by personal concerns -- essentially put on hold -- just as easily as vice versa (as in Tony's example of "Marcus was about to tell Peggie Marie that he loves her when the Professor said "we must go!"). Stories do this all the time. We've all heard of opera or stage characters who receive some mortal hurt, declare "I am dead!," and then keep talking/singing for 10 minutes before finally expiring (heck, no less an icon than Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, does this). American comic book characters (though not Japanese, as a rule) recite lengthy homilies on morals in between one punch and the next. And I used to pull out my watch whenever some TV or movie character declared, "the bomb / planet / inflamed goiter will explode in X minutes" to see if it really did take X minutes of screen time -- which of course it never, ever did. (Try this with the original Star Wars and the repeated line "The Death Star will be in firing position in ").  Sometimes it took less time, because of editing for dramatic compression; but sometimes it took more, because the story had things it needed to do first, darn it, and it wasn't going to be rushed.

    So maybe the time bomb just keeps ticking. If the story is engaging enough, no one should be looking at their watch to say "gotcha" when X minutes are up. ("Dude, wasn't the bomb set for 20 minutes?" "Well, you got across town to Miss Darling's apartment, talked out your differences, made passionate love, and got back in time to defuse the bomb -- how long can that take? You're a superhero.") Stories are about characters: If a tree falls in a forest and there's no character around, it didn't make a sound; if a Complication is not resolved by a character, maybe it stays unresolved.

    The burning orphanage is actually a little trickier in this paradigm, because it's an undeniable active process that keeps going of itself. A while back (in the same primordial Capes thread I referenced above, I think) I suggested a "trigger self-feeding process" Wonder (i.e. Effect in current terms) which would add a point of control every round (i.e. a bump up) until the Complication was resolved, one way or another. But now that Tony's come up with sample characters like "It's a Trap!" there's a much more elegant solution, far more in keeping with the idea of story being all about characters: The fire is a villain.

    Thus when Captain Heroic and the Dark Dastard are fighting it out and a stray Cosmo-Blast sets the orphanage on fire, Dark Dastard isn't necessarily contesting that complication (as Doug suggested, the bad guys often don't care, although they should have the option to deliberately make matters worse): Instead, a new adversary has appeared on scene, The Blazing Inferno, with Powers like "Spread to adjoining building" and Tropes like "Wait! Where's little Timmy?"
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    TonyLB
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    « Reply #14 on: September 17, 2004, 04:18:10 PM »

    Quote from: Sydney Freedberg
    But now that Tony's come up with sample characters like "It's a Trap!" there's a much more elegant solution, far more in keeping with the idea of story being all about characters: The fire is a villain.

    [fanboy raving] Jaw drops.  Did I say that?  No, I'm pretty sure you found that in a much less interesting bit of thought from me. [/fanboy raving]

    So let me see if I grasp the implications.  Bystanders would still be a Complication.  "Orphanage Fire" would be an ad hoc villain acting on the Bystander Complication.

    Orphanage Fire can then (according to the new rules I just posted) claim the Complication and attempt to Resolve it.  Obviously if Orphanage Fire resolves the Complication then you have lots of kiddies in the burn ward.  If another villain resolves the Complication then the orphans might get rescued, but some other bystanders get hurt or terrorized or kidnapped... all according to that villain's intentions on Resolving it.  If the heroes resolve the Complication then everyone goes free.  And if nobody resolves the Complication.

    Still a little stuck on that.  Nobody resolves the Complication means the orphans don't burn (because that would be victory for Orphanage Fire) but the heroes don't save the day...

    Grrr... okay, I still don't have a solution to unresolved Complications.  But this does help make it easier to think about such things.  It makes explicit a lot of stuff that was sort of assumed, but not systematized.  I also have a neat little addition to Sydney's idea.

    Specifically, Innocent Victims can also be a villain.  And a hero.  Simultaneously.  With Attitudes like "Run in terror" and Tropes like "Can anybody possibly save us now?" you've got a character that can equally well add to the villainous side or the heroic.  The villain threatens them and they run in terror... big villain points.  They call out "Can anybody possibly save us now?" and the hero arrives to save the day.  Hero points.

    So if they get two points of Prominence, one from the Editor and one from the heroes then they act on two successive action turns, once for the villains and once for the heroes.  Which allows you to make the Innocent Victims a prominent feature of the game without causing them to imbalance anything toward one side or another.  They may, however, water down the import of the heroes themselves (since it's more rolls that are being called for by non-hero-characters, even if the players are the ones calling for them).

    And for everybody who loved the aggressive grandmother beating on Cheshire Cat in a previous example:  This provides explicit mechanics for Victims beating on villains as a natural side effect.  You just have Victims rolling on Clobbering rather than on the Bystanders Complication.
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