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[Capes] Party Tricks

Started by Arpie, December 16, 2005, 09:31:22 AM

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Some manga-obsessed friends of mine (I dislike manga and, for the most part, anime, but I don't have many friends) ran a couple games of Capes over at their house the other night.  It was pretty fun, especially for the guys who were a little RPG shy.

Here's some things we added to the game to give it more of a party atmosphere:

Character Shuffle
- at the end of every scene, we put all the characters created so far into the center of the table and then, starting with whoever set the scene, picked the character we'd like for the next scene. Players were allowed to make new characters at this point without spending story tolkiens (story tolkiens were only spent to introduce EXTRA characters to scenes, or to get EXTRA actions at the pages' ends. That helped it stick in new players' minds a little better.)

This kept everyone from getting too attached to their characters but it also allowed the guys with more emotional investment in a given character to hold on for dear life (or make other deals - see below.)

Backroom Deals
Between scenes, players were allowed  (and egged on by guys like me) to make shady deals - trading story tolkiens around, sloughing off debts, promising not to snag so-and-so's favorite character, that kind of thing. It allowed the folks who wanted everything to run smoothly to cut the more dyed-in-the-wool RPGers a break and for those rotten boardgamers to vent their competitive urges somewhere other than in the narration.

Random Name Pick
Since most of the people at the table were manga/anime freaks (what're they called? Ottercues? Autokooks?*) we decided to give our games random Japanese/English butchered translation names.
Each of us secretly wrote a word of each game's title on a card, then placed the cards in a hat and picked them randomly - naming the game in more-or-less that order.

Wonderfully Fruit Magical Academy told the story of how rambunctious shapeshifter Tom Dockin got stuck with superfast mutant tattletale Steelbreeze** as a "conscience" after Dockin pretend to be the school bus as a prank (trying to scare a group of underclassmen.)

13 Big Robot Enemy Squisher Hikaru told the story of Ing, duped into flying a prototype giant robot against highly psychic alien "invaders" by the ambitious and sinister Archcarnifax Vathek. It turned out the invaders were actually peace emissaries and there was a hilarious scene where Ing went into an epic space battle armed with dud missles.

*I hang around with these guys. I know the terms.
**Yes. This was a shameless Synnibarr reference, why do you ask?


Quotewhat're they called? Ottercues? Autokooks?*

Do you mean "otaku"?
Impeach the bomber boys:

"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
- Leonardo da Vinci

Sydney Freedberg

Very cool. Tony, you should add a new random name generator to the website/next edition, I think, with alternating columns of English and Japanese. And I personally think trading Tokens, Inspirations, etc. is a neat addition, although one that should be optional.

Quote from: Arpie on December 16, 2005, 09:31:22 AMPlayers were allowed to make new characters at this point without spending story tolkiens (story tolkiens were only spent to introduce EXTRA characters to scenes, or to get EXTRA actions at the pages' ends. That helped it stick in new players' minds a little better.)

If I understand this correctly, you were actually playing entirely by the rules. It costs nothing to create a new character -- or to rewrite an existing character, for that matter -- and it costs nothing to introduce your first character at the start of a scene; the only things you need to pay Story Tokens for are, as you, said, (1) introducing an additional character after your first free one and (2) taking an extra action after everyone's had their regular turn; and also (3) claiming an additional Conflict after your first free Claim and (4) introducing a Conflict before the Claiming phase (the only way you can introduce a Conflict and immediately Claim it so it resolves that turn -- very powerful).

Likewise, the "character shuffle" is completely within the rules: Most people play with "spotlight characters" where each player has one (or more) characters that only s/he is allowed to play, but all non-spotlight characters are available for anyone to play in any scene -- and you were all basically playing with no spotlight characters, hence the shuffle.

Bret Gillan

Hey Arpie!

Character Shuffle - This is the way I've always played it. One of the things I love about it the most is creating a character and having someone else get really excited about them and play them. Sometimes I'll create a throwaway and someone else falls in love with my portrayal and before I know it the character has been comandeered! It works a lot like the comics, where different authors have different takes on characters and add new details, but there's some core part of the character that remains consistent and shines through.

Backroom Deals - I am really, really interested in this idea - trading promises for story tokens and so on. Have you played a normal game of Capes, and if so, how do you think this altered the currency system of the game? Any problems? Advantages?

Random Name Pick - Hilarious and brilliant.


Backroom Deals
This doesn't actually change the way tolkiens are earned - it only provides an outlet for, perhaps, undue sympathy between players and certain forms of... I guess you call it gamism here on the forge.

As far as coin economy, it acts as an allieviating measure, for instance, when someone has overdone it with a superpowered character and has a lot of debt tolkiens (and is getting sick of the negative rerolls at goal resolution.) 

EXAMPLE: Ryan, a dab hand at anime conventions and certain types of weasel gaming, had taken control of Ing, the young mecha pilot, for several scenes. He'd been pretty liberal with his use of debt tolkiens, but since I'd been playing his main opposition, the Archcarnifax Vathek, for almost the same amount of time, I'd got most of his story tolkiens. I didn't NEED that many story tolkiens, but I don't roll dice well and I really wanted to see something happen in the next scene, so I offered Ryan half of my tolkiens if he'd let me (or even help me) acheive two goals in the next scene (by either not opposing me or taking a dive if he did or felt compelled to claim an opposing side.) Ryan, a master of the backroom deal, agreed and then proceeded to create one goal which I had to agree to but which didn't real fit my agenda for Vathek's scathing usurpation of planetary power. He also capitulated to the goal where Vathek continued to pull the wool over Ing's eyes in order to get the kid to fight the peaceful alien telepaths on their way for some inscrutible purpose.

The actual rule would look like this (and I agree, it should be optional, it isn't to every group's taste:)

Players make make deals between scenes to exchange story tolkiens between one another for other benefits, like favors, promises and debt allevation (even "taking a fall" in regards to given goals.)

Deals must be agreed to, aloud, by all the players involved. Free will, must, of course, be involved on all sides of the deal.

Such deals are considered binding only for the rest of the scene. Players can be as creative or faustian as they like with these deals, so long as all parties involved consent to the stated terms.

Particularly active groups may wish to make deals between pages, but this can really slow down the game.

Offering or accepting such a "backroom" deal is always optional.


I'd worry about destructive pre-play.

I mean, the rules have a mechanism for saying "I'll give you a bunch of Story Tokens if you let me win this conflict," right?  So if you're adding a mechanism to do it through social negotiation you're pretty well reducing the inclination to use the pre-existing mechanics.  Which is ... hrm ... a little odd to me.  But then, I'm obviously biased in favor of the rules as they exist.

How did offering the story tokens directly make you feel happier than using those story tokens to generate some debt, and staking that debt on what you wanted to win as a bribe to your opposition?
Just published: Capes
New Project:  Misery Bubblegum


Why use backroom deals? Since the basic rules are just fine and all? Well, it made a guy new to the game more likely to try it again, for one thing.

Now, I should point out that the idea of backroom deals doesn't always work. That's why I agree it should remain optional. I offer it only as a possible tool for, say, a casual environment where you're trying to shake up an old group or as a lever to get a new group to accept some of your viewpoints.
You know, disarmament.

I tried running the game with another mostly traditional TT, powergamer and boardgamer group tonight. I didn't use the optional rule this time and, alas, it didn't work out so well. Does that mean the game doesn't work? No, it just means I need an additional crutch in my own presentations. (Perhaps someone else could use such a crutch.)

The critique was: "fun idea, but the story tokens weren't very well distributed? I mean, why should your opponents earn such powerful rewards for your own efforts?"

I use the "backroom deals" idea as a sop to cooperation. From a very competitive vantage point, some of the stuff I try to introduce from the forge can seem a little... backward (I think the term I heard used most was "bass ackward.")

(Of course, from some of the conversations I've seen in these forums, I don't think you guys'd like the groups I play with very much. But, hey, you never know when you might need to make do, right?)

Sydney Freedberg

The backroom deals do add something to the game, though, which is they look much more controllable than using the mechanics -- "Why should I fight out the Conflict to try to get Story Tokens when I can just cut a deal and definitely get them?" -- but in fact can be much riskier -- because, if I give you the Story Tokens in return for doing X, you might change your mind, you encounter circumstances that make the original deal impossible to execute ("Oh -- someone already sprung your character from jail? Oops"), or you might just not do it because you were planning to screw me all along. Now, I'm not sure this element is to everyone's liking, but it'd be interesting to try.

Quote from: Arpie on December 18, 2005, 05:42:44 AMOf course, from some of the conversations I've seen in these forums, I don't think you guys'd like the groups I play with very much....

Hey, don't prejudge us -- or your own group, or even yourself. Now that I'm versed in Forge theory and understand not only that different people like different games but also that certain personalities do best with certain mechanics, I'm way less prone to write someone off as a "poor roleplayer" or "a powergamer" or "a munchkin," and way more likely to think, "oh, he likes to do [this thing], I bet if we played [insert other game here] with him, we'd have a lot more fun." It's easy to think of Forge theory (especially GNS) as a device for labelling people as one type of gamer forever; in fact it's a tool for figuring out that you can have different kinds of fun with different kinds of people, as long as you don't insist on your own One True Way of Fun with people who are into something else.

If you and your group happen to be anywhere near Washington, D.C., tell me and I'll keep you posted the next time the North Va./D.C./southern Md. Forge-folk have one of their erratically scheduled meet-ups (maybe January?).


I can see why you'd need back room deals - check out this example:
I have a conflict which I want to win, and I am willing to spend 1 story token to ensure that this happens.
My opponent doesn't want me to win, but they are willing to be bribed for 1 story token.
Using back room deals, we can arrange this without difficulty.
Without backroom deals it gets more complicated:
Firstly, if I only control non-powered characters in the scene, I can't offer any kind of bribe at all (can't stake debt).
So I use my story token to roll it up once.  My opponent is willing to roll once to stop me, so I have a slight advantage
(57% chance of winning outright, roughly 17% chance of a tie).
If I control a powered character, and it has debt available, I can roll once, stake 2 debt (more of a bribe than I was willing to offer, but that's not a problem) and use my story token to roll one of the split dice.  Now I have a 68% chance of winning outright, and about a 12% chance of a tie.
In both cases, there's a fairly decent chance of losing, despite the fact that both players would like me to win
(actually, this is inaccurate in the case of a powered character - if my opponent tries to roll one of my dice down, instead of his die up, my chances of losing go down to 9%, but not all players might get that that's the best way to do it)

So clearly, there is a mechanical incentive to use backroom deals for players that have them available.  The question is, what effect do backroom deals have a negative effect on the economy of the game?



Well, we don't have to speak theoretically.  It is the "Actual Play" forum, after all.  We've got this:

Quote from: Arpie on December 16, 2005, 09:31:22 AMIt allowed the folks who wanted everything to run smoothly to cut the more dyed-in-the-wool RPGers a break and for those rotten boardgamers to vent their competitive urges somewhere other than in the narration.

And, given the interest, I'd like to hear that expanded upon.  Can we get some instances of how the system was actually used in the game, and what venues it shifted competitive urges toward?
Just published: Capes
New Project:  Misery Bubblegum


Examples. Er... okay... Fair enough.

I'll take two specific moments from play that I can recall:

More recent game (without backroom deals) -
- Randy and Jake are playing opposed masterminds at an important demonstration of new flying powered armor for the Marine Corps. Due to some confusion on the part of the youngest player, who's playing the Godling/Crusader Kestral, things are going pretty well for Jake's sinister Dr. Moore (kind of Dabney Donovan-meets-Dr. Moreau) and we're all enjoying Jake's insane triumphant laughter.
Randy, playing a character known only as "C" - described by him as a sort of a goody-goody version of the X-file's Cigarette Smoking Man - puts out the goal: "Kill Dr. Moore" (in frustration, I think.) Jake has created Dr. Moore as a Scientist/Neurotic, as I recall. Neither Jake nor Randy have any story tolkens and neither have any debt (which the two younger players pretty much have monopolized.) Despite tremendous amounts of debt on their part, the story tolkens keep going to me (the high-powered armor simpleton lackey.)
Nobody but the Kestral and "C" really want to see Dr. Moore killed, especially so early in the story, and we try and support him. I spend story tolkens like mad, but I'm telling you, I got bad dice luck.
(Unless I cheat, but everyone at the table is a better cheater than me.)
Things get worse, Dr. Moore perishes (Jake takes it like a trooper, but Randy won't call "C" anything but a good guy, despite his sinister conspiratorial presence) the story kind of dies and we all want to kill the kid playing the Kestrel.
A problem with players? Perhaps, but one that we could have prevented if I thought to do a little negotiating.

Earlier game (with backroom deals) -
- Ryan, an avid fan of SJG's Illuminati (of course), is playing Ing, the brash and gulliable young mecha pilot. I'm playing Archcarnifex Vathek, his main opposition, (with no superpowers.) He's a Robot/Ex-Victim, I'm a Sycophantic Spook (closest I could come to grand vizier without being a puppet master - which someone else had already claimed - we were doing it quick with one set of clicksheets... anyway...)
Being superpowered, Ryan's generating tons of debt but all his story tolkens* are going to me. If he does not use his powers, he has little effect on the story and is running out of check boxes. Ryan is a master die roller, but I'm having my usual rotten die luck (they rolls are all going my way especially when I don't want them to.) The other players, even my villainous minion, have started to feel bad and are doing whatever they can to help out - but the plot points are beginning to spiral out of control.
I'm making random goals up to keep from rolling, as a matter of fact.
So I make a deal to Ryan - I specifically want Ing to keep playing the fool for me and attack the peaceful, misunderstood psychical aliens Vathek is setting up as "invaders" - so he can be proclaimed a military genius and squash all oppostion in the Temple of Science. Ryan just wants Ing to succeed at SOMETHING. Ing is the hero of the story, after all.
So, inbetween scenes, Ryan agrees that, during the climatic battle scene, he will "throw" two goals I present - not even claiming the side which ought to benefit him - and I'll give him four of my story tolkens.
A consumate master of manipulating the deal, Ryan then switches characters in order to become one of the invaders. We call all deals binding for at least a scene. Ryan's all-knowing, all-wise telepaths successfully invade and profer a better method of government to Vathek's fanatical Science Council (completely reversing the war allegory I was trying to establish.) A successful uprising kicks out Vathek and his forces become the insurgents (at least I had control of that bit.) Ing, of course, becomes a hero (I ended up playing Ing for the battle, by the way. Because of another deal I'd made.)

(Remember that some people play games to feel clever. Ryan, a staunch republican, often prefers to feel cleverer than my bleeding heart liberal pro-union Democratic self. That's fine. I'm really not all that clever anyway.)

(PS. A lot of the guys I currently play with proudly proclaim themselves to be powergamers and munchkins, incidentally**. I think it was a petty fair judgement on both sides. They don't like most of what I tell them about the Forge, either. Personally, I consider myself pretty artful when I can balance on the fence.)

*You don't know how badly I want to keep spelling that Tolkiens, but I was gently reminded of the difference. Just heard a JRR reading of original Frodo song at Prancing Pony.
**A reaction to five years of miserable WW experiences, mostly. Just hearing certain "storytelling" or "darkness" terms sends me right over the edge.


Uh ... okay.  I've never seen that sort of behavior out of the rules before.  I've created a separate thread in the Muse of Fire forums, just to make sure that we are, in fact, both using the rules in the same way.

Don't mind me ... as the designer, I can't get my brain into gear on the other, more pertinent, questions about the benefits of the negotiation model, and where it shifts competition until I get this thrashed out.  The part of me that knows the rules system just keeps saying "But... but... but...."  I'll be back here when I'm sure I understand what's going on.
Just published: Capes
New Project:  Misery Bubblegum