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Author Topic: [Capes] Following the system  (Read 3395 times)
TonyLB
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« on: March 11, 2005, 09:34:52 AM »

Chrysalis is the space-station at the end of time, from which our characters travel back into the past for our various reasons.  Eric got totally on his "presenting adversity" game, and handed us a nicely thought out situation.  Alien lizards, mysteriously allied against human time travel (and humans generally) somehow attack the station.

I played Vanessa Faust, a techno-sorceress who has damned millions of souls, and who considers that a job well done.  It's on her resume.  Sydney played Minerva, his psychotic, quiet, creepy psychic goth-child.  So we basically had nobody on the field who would be clearly defined as "good".  Lots of question marks.

So Eric has his plan, and he games it nicely:  He creates "Goal:  Destroy Chrysalis", invests lots of resources and pushes the destroy side up pretty far.  Sydney responds by dumping in a load of debt from Minerva on the other side, and for the first time we really see the character getting engaged.  Eric has finally found the challenge nasty enough that it draws the creepy-girl out of her shell.  Yay!

The only problem, from my point of view, was that by the time things got to me the battle lines had already been drawn.  I wasn't going to draw any interest away from "Destroy Chryslis" for other Conflicts.  So if I wanted to be profiting on this exchange, I needed to get in on that Conflict somehow.

First I did what I've been trained to do by years of RPG.  I said "What would my character do?"  And I figured that Faust was evil, but Chrysalis was useful to her, so she would try to stop it being destroyed.

Then I looked at the game-mechanic options there, and they were pretty dismal.  If I jumped in on that side we would win without any further effort.  Which would mean I wouldn't get any real resources, they'd all go to Sydney.  I'd just be contributing to a foregone conclusion.  The rules made this, really, oh so clear.  It was like there was a little devil (or maybe angel) on my shoulder saying "Hey, you can go either way, but the profit for you is in trying to destroy Chrysalis, succeed or fail."

And that thought had to cross my mind five or six times before I took it seriously.  Because I had first thought about what Faust would do.  Eventually I realized "Hey, I'd really rather I could try to destroy the station!  But... oh... it doesn't make sense.  Wait, I'm a clever guy.  I can make it make sense, if I want to."

So I created "Goal:  Redeploy critical time travel equipment", and it turned out that Faust had been anticipating the day when Chrysalis would come under attack.  And that, frankly, she thought all of the important equipment would be better deployed elsewhere in the time-stream under (of course) her supervision.  So bits of the station start disappearing.  And Faust jumps in to help destroy the rest, as a tactical maneuver to cripple the attacking lizard horde and throw them off guard.

The conflict between Minerva and Faust just rocked.  It became personal so very quickly.  As Sydney said later "This started out being about destroying Chrysalis, but it ended up being just about which character was going to get her way with the universe."

As it turns out, Eric threw in his support to Minerva (bringing in one of his heroic characters) so I eventually failed to destroy Chrysalis (and reaped a harvest of Story Tokens).  I succeeded in establishing a second time-travel base somewhen in time, though.  So all in all it was a good day for Vanessa.  Vanessa never seems to have bad days.

I'm really extremely happy about how it turned out.  The patterns of the game-system made a very valid artistic contribution, which I would never have thought up on my own, and which I'm reasonably confident nobody else at the table would have suggested either.

And as such things so often do, the possibility that I first discounted turns out to feel utterly right, once it's actually happened.  Of course Vanessa would have her own agenda.  Of course you can't trust her to treat the deaths of thousands of her allies as an important factor.  Having just played this session, we now know these things about her as if they had always been there patiently awaiting our discovery.
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #1 on: March 11, 2005, 10:11:24 AM »

Speaking as Minerva's player (creepy, melancholy little girl from Victorian England -- think any of the Secret Garden or Little Princess stories redone as horror), I think the really cool thing about this scene was how something that looked totally plot-oriented -- a big battle scene with the good guy base in danger of blowing up -- turned out to be totally character-oriented. The real revelation wasn't that the Uber Bad Guy was able to attack the hitherto untouchable base, or that Minerva's destiny is to be his creator (a bit I threw in which frankly no one got too excited about), but that Minerva cared about everyone else to try to save them -- and that Faust cared so little about everyone else that she was willing to try to destroy them. The what's-at-stake in the scene became less about "is our base going to blow up?" and more about "what price will Minerva pay for standing up to Vanessa Faust?"

Even my mistakes turned out well in this system. The sorceress Faust is kind of a scary-yet-attractive mother figure for the orphaned Minerva, and we'd established that in game-mechanics as an "Exemplar" relationship, which allowed me to introduce a free conflict "Faust tempts Minerva with Dark Knowledge." I threw it in the mix and watched as no one, myself included, had any attention to spare for it as the battle raged; I figured I'd just needlessly complicated the scene. Instead, the battle ended, the station was saved, and the other complications went off the table -- but because the "Temptation" conflict was still out there, the scene couldn't end, and we were forced to finish it by focusing on the human relationship issue. So the noise of the big battle gave way to a woman and a little girl, quietly talking -- which was every bit as intense. What's more, because I had way overspent Minerva's resources earlier saving the station, she was exhausted and unable to resist on her own behalf. It worked very well.
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TonyLB
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« Reply #2 on: March 12, 2005, 06:37:49 AM »

I must admit that, as exciting as this notion is, it's a little unsettling too.  If I'm looking at the dice, and then deciding what to do, am I drifting into Pawn stance?  I provided retroactive motivation this time, but I think it's fair to say that there was nothing in our system (either rules or social contract) that forced me to it.  I could have just done whatever, without making up any good reason a'tall.

The Capes system gets much of its power from the times when you make subjective decisions, rather than objective.  You go crazy on "Goal:  Save Timmy from the well" rather than the easier (and equally valuable) "Goal:  Feed Lassie", because it strikes you as more important in a subjective way.

There's a balancing act here:  I want to be open to being led by the rules, but I don't want to be so open that I cease to contribute powerfully myself.  For the moment I think I'm still very safely on the "do the illogical thing when you feel like it" side of the fence.  In fact, I think I currently listen to the rules (if anything) too little.  But there's a danger-zone there that I haven't perceived since high-school D&D.  I find it very funny and a little eerie to think that I'm coming full circle to a place where I worry again about questions that are structurally identical to "Am I killing this orc because it's evil, or just for the XP?"
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TonyLB
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« Reply #3 on: March 12, 2005, 07:05:02 AM »

Sydney:  Yeah, the whole "Minerva created Orouboros" thing left me a little cold, because I don't see where other players have a chance to use it to create adversity.  If it's destined to happen, and Minerva knows it's destined to happen, then it's this closed emotional loop, much like the tail-eating-serpent itself.

I think you need to spike it with something that makes it more of a source of conflict, and then (like the whole recurring images of Orouboros, that lay fallow for a few sessions, then became critical) someone will pick it up and run with it.
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #4 on: March 12, 2005, 07:42:17 AM »

And I get to define the next scene, as I recall... Stuck in traffic on the way to last week's game, I actually wrote up a key non-tangible character for that on the chance we might get to it (we didn't), so I'm pretty set for next time. Two of the great things about this system are that characters take about five minutes and that they can be be completely abstract phenomena.
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TonyLB
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« Reply #5 on: March 14, 2005, 07:52:15 AM »

Yeah, but... you realize that you can't fix what's wrong with the "Minerva creates Orouboros" tag-line by playing a character relevant to it, right?  That's you telling the story some more, which is nice and all, but is an isolated and isolating activity.

Honestly, given how absolutely swamped in Debt (particularly Truth debt) Minerva is now, I'd recommend just playing Minerva and trying to buy our interest with Story Tokens.  Like create "Goal:  Deny the truth of Orouboros's prophecy" and stake some Truth debt on it.

That has several effects:
    [*]You get to roleplay Minerva's denial, which is obviously a huge factor in her character[*]We are motivated to push the importance of the Minerva/Orouboros plot, in order to be good opposition[*]Maybe you win, in which case we are rewarded, and know to create such conflicts ourselves in future, which pushes the story in a deferred way[*]Maybe you lose, in which case one of us has to narrate something unavoidably true about the prophecy, pushing forward the story immediately.[/list:u]Am I making sense here?  You seem to be obsessing on what you can do to tell the story, as opposed to what you can do to incite us to tell the story.  Our group is a three cylinder story engine.  The Minerva-Orouboros story is firing on only the Sydney cylinder right now.  You can't get it firing on all cylinders by tuning the Sydney cylinder.
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    Sydney Freedberg
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    « Reply #6 on: March 14, 2005, 08:12:45 AM »

    Good suggestions. And the "intangible phenomenon" is mainly to help Minerva out with a bunch of abilities she doesn't have to pay Debt to use. Reconstructing from memory ('cause chargen is easy in this game):

    DREAM
    Free Goal: Wake up!

    Styles:
    Symbolism
    Surrealism
    Non-Sequitur
    Falling
    Flying

    Attitudes:
    Loss
    Fear
    Hope
    Joy
    Huh?

    I love that the system can create "characters" like this.
    Whose dream is it? Don't know. Whoever wins the conflict "Wake up!" gets to define who wakes up.
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    TonyLB
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    « Reply #7 on: March 14, 2005, 09:24:15 AM »

    What happened to "My strategy with Minerva is to collect as much Debt as possible"?  Have the strength of your convictions, man!
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    Sydney Freedberg
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    « Reply #8 on: March 14, 2005, 09:29:15 AM »

    If anyone besides Tony is still reading this thread -- all Capes players be warned: If you screw with the standard proportion of Debt-driven powered abilities vs. single-use but debt-free abilities, you will drown in debt, the way my character Minerva is now doing. In fact there's no real chance she can win enough conflicts to get rid of her existing debt without -- you guessed it -- generating more debt.

    So, no, Tony, I'm not really worried that Minerva will stop being a high-debt, high-misery character, no.
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