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Author Topic: [Capes] Finally, a campaign  (Read 4667 times)
Bret Gillan
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Posts: 375

That's Bret with one 't' damn it.


« on: December 19, 2005, 07:56:03 AM »

I am pumped. For the first time I will be playing multiple sessions of Capes in a short-term campaign. My friend Jere is home from college from break, so while he's here me and his brother Josh are going to do a semi-regular game. The nice thing I realized last night when we were talking about when we'll play again is that you can easily pick up Capes and just run a scene or two if you can't play for hours.

We sat down to play and Jere suggested talking over some general concepts before we played and decide what kind of story we were going to tell. I was like, "Nah, I like seeing what happens, and Capes gives you such narrative power that you can easily steer the game towards what you want to see in play." We went with my preferences and I think things turned out fine, but maybe Josh and Jere can say whether they think things would have gone better if we had this pre-game talk.

Play was bumpy. We had all played before in a short one-shot, but I assumed that Josh and Jere remembered everything and then some. And I made some rules mistakes too. We should've done a quick rules brush-up before play, but we had the major concepts down and I felt like, after 4 scenes, we were a bit more adept.

We didn't really talk much about the game as it was being played, which I really need to do more. I think I told Jere at one point that the Thresher, a character he created, was really cool, and that he narrated the resolution of a conflict in a cool fashion, but I want to get more of the chatter rolling. I always find a game a lot more fun when we're talking about the game while we play it.

We need to work on our Conflict Creation finesse. I think we need to work on creating conflicts that everyone or at least one other person gives a damn about (in the last scene of the game we just ended the scene with two Conflicts on the table because it was getting late and nobody gave a crap about them) and creating Conflicts that are about more than our character "winning" ('Goal: Kill X' and 'Goal: Subdue X' are popular, but bland and sometimes irritating conflicts). And sometimes we set down Goals that we as players didn't really want.

Example:

Spider (female superhero with metal armor that has 8 long, metal claws built into it - think Invader Zim) is confronting the Matron Mother and a demon she summoned, the Thresher (this nasty spiky bladed thing). I created a Goal for Spider, "Kill the Thresher." After winning this, I realized that I, Bret, didn't want this to happen at all even though Spider might. The Thresher was really cool! So even though I had an explicitly stated Goal, I ended up Narrating a different outcome (she beat the crap out the Thresher and then showed it mercy). This was just an instance of me creating a Conflict and then after winning it realizing, "Wow! This is a horrible goal! It's not interesting at all!" A Goal I made later that was a lot better was "Goal: Turn the Thresher against Matron Mother." Now *that* was sexy.

This is something that I imagine will get better with play, and once we have more defined ideas about where we want the plot to go and how we want characters to develop.

Another thing that happened was Jere framed a scene and no Conflict emerged. It was by no means an unsuccessful Scene, but I was worried that maybe Jere felt like he wasted his turn.

This was also the first time that I really used Debt. Holy cow is that a great idea. You bribe the other players to let you win Conflicts that matter to your character.

Hopefully we'll play again tonight for at least a scene or two.
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #1 on: December 19, 2005, 08:36:16 AM »

This was also the first time that I really used Debt. Holy cow is that a great idea. You bribe the other players to let you win Conflicts that matter to your character.

Now you're cookin' with gas. The "winner's Debt becomes loser's Story Tokens" mechanic absolutely drives Capes play. In the campaign I'm in with Tony himself, two very interesting things happen:

1) Any time anyone stakes any Debt on a Conflict, anyone else who wasn't already involved starts to think, "How can I get those as Story Tokens? How can I justify (one or more of) my character(s) rolling against the guy who just staked Debt and narrate it with sufficient coolness that I earn the Tokens?"
Tony actually tends to roll at least once on both sides of any Conflict with staked Debt, if only by having one of his characters doing something self-defeating ("I rush to help you rescue the hostages! Rolling with the Power of 'indiscriminate gunfire'..."), which means he's always eligible for Tokens -- and sometimes is the only guy eligible, so by the rules he gets all of them.
The result is that there are almost never any uncontested Conflicts. Donwside, this makes for longer scenes (sometimes way longer), but on the upside, even if the Goal or Event wasn't very interesting to start with, people have a lot of incentive to make it interesting. What's more, even though the mechanics are driving the story, the story is still enriched: "Oh, I want to get those Tokens, so, uh, my character does this thing -- now why'd he do that? Oh! He's really self-defeating/in love with the archvillainness/jealous of his teammate/etc. etc. etc."

2) Any time there's a hard-fought Conflict with a lot of Debt staked on both sides, each player involved has to keep thinking, "I really wanted to win this -- but look at all the Story Tokens I could get for giving up -- but look at all the Debt I'd get back doubled -- but look at all those Tokens -- but Debt -- but Tokens...." These big Conflicts, in our game, almost never end because someone simply couldn't do anything; they almost always end because someone had what I call the "name that tune" moment and decided to take the Tokens.

Inspirations will start to kick in powerfully too as you play more scenes, too, and they'll force you to think of new aspects of your characters as well: "Darn, the only way I can win this Conflict against Magma-Man is with a 6 Inspiration, but my only 6 comes from my character telling his dad 'you never really loved me' -- so does that mean my character beats up super-villains because they remind him of his cold and domineering father?"

We sat down to play and Jere suggested talking over some general concepts before we played and decide what kind of story we were going to tell. I was like, "Nah, I like seeing what happens, and Capes gives you such narrative power that you can easily steer the game towards what you want to see in play." We went with my preferences and I think things turned out fine, but maybe Josh and Jere can say whether they think things would have gone better if we had this pre-game talk.

Don't try this at home, kids. Capes does let you invent everything on the fly, but past Actual Play (my own included) shows that it really, really helps to have worked out some basic agreement on the story beforehand, if only on things like "dark and gritty vs. patriotic optimism" or "no aliens" or "we're all time-travellers." Otherwise it's really easy to get really silly. On the flipside, you don't want to treat that initial discussion as Holy Scripture, just as a springboard into the real story.

I think I told Jere at one point that the Thresher, a character he created, was really cool, and that he narrated the resolution of a conflict in a cool fashion, but I want to get more of the chatter rolling...

Chatter is your friend. Chatter is the customer feedback that tells you what parts of what you're doing has excited the other players and can therefore earn Story Tokens off of them.

'Goal: Kill X' and 'Goal: Subdue X' are popular, but bland and sometimes irritating conflicts....I created a Goal for Spider, "Kill the Thresher." After winning this, I realized that I, Bret, didn't want this to happen at all even though Spider might. The Thresher was really cool! So even though I had an explicitly stated Goal, I ended up Narrating a different outcome (she beat the crap out the Thresher and then showed it mercy). ....A Goal I made later that was a lot better was "Goal: Turn the Thresher against Matron Mother." Now *that* was sexy.

When I said before you were cookin' with gas? Now you're cooking a big juicy steak with that gas.

Traditional RPGs are very good at resolving "I beat you up" or "I kill you" goals. In Capes, those are pretty useless, because (a) there's no rule that says you can't bring a "dead" character back to life on your next turn (happens in comic books all the time!) and (b) these goals just (try to) remove a character from the story -- they don't change the character, which means, ironically, they're not really a threat to anyone's idea of that character!

Compare these Conflicts from our campaign:
"Event: someone is proven a better scientist" - played in a scene with Tony's super-scientist character, whom he'd defined as smarter than anyone else basically ever -- he couldn't afford to lose that one.
"Event: the little girl Minerva is alone with the bad guy's leader" - one way it could end was with Minerva (my character) at the villain's mercy, but in fact it ended with her activating scary psychic mind powers to haul the villain off to Minerva's private null-dimension, which hadn't even existed in the story till that point
"Goal: overcome your Britishness long enough to show some sign of human affection" - Minerva being a classically repressed Brit
"Goal: Tell your boss the whole truth" -- played when my other character, Col. Kettridge, was briefing his boss Lord Ransom (played by Eric "the Czech") on ways to eliminate a threat; just creating the Conflict make it a fact in the game-world that Kettridge was lying by omission
"Goal: Believe what he just said" -- played on Kettridge, again.
"Goal: Prove that he's not part of a selfish conspiracy to betray the team" - played on poor Kettridge. The killer word there was "selfish"; I invested heavily in that conflict, won it, and then narrated a result that actually left it ambiguous whether Kettridge was a traitor or not but made damned clear that whatever horrible thing he was doing, he was doing because he thought it was for the greater good.
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Bret Gillan
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Posts: 375

That's Bret with one 't' damn it.


« Reply #2 on: December 19, 2005, 09:03:54 AM »

Traditional RPGs are very good at resolving "I beat you up" or "I kill you" goals. In Capes, those are pretty useless, because (a) there's no rule that says you can't bring a "dead" character back to life on your next turn (happens in comic books all the time!) and (b) these goals just (try to) remove a character from the story -- they don't change the character, which means, ironically, they're not really a threat to anyone's idea of that character!
There goes a lightbulb! Thanks Sydney!

I'm thinking back on past one-shots, and effective vs. ineffective Conflicts, and this right here seems to point right at the crux of it - effective conflicts are ones that threaten to change the ideas of a character. Is that in the rulebook somewhere? It should be.

While nobody likes their character losing a fight, it's boring because there's nothing at Stake apart from the outcome of a conflict and who has more bruises.
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Judd
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« Reply #3 on: December 19, 2005, 06:14:40 PM »

Bret,

Do you think there is a point where we talk about our games too much and play them too little?

I've been thinking about that quite a bit at my gaming table recently and wondered what you thought.

Sounds like you hit the perfect balance that night, though.  Sometimes its just in the air.
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Bret Gillan
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Posts: 375

That's Bret with one 't' damn it.


« Reply #4 on: December 20, 2005, 06:28:09 AM »

Judd,

That's an interesting question. It seems like without in-game events do drive the conversation, eventually it would begin to falter, but I can imagine that there could be games where the metagame discussion is so prevalent that the actually game progresses very slowly. This seems like an unlikely situation, though. Maybe someone else has Actual Play where this has occurred that they could bring up, but I don't.

I've seen arguments disrupt and overwhelm a game, but I think that's different from what you're talking about which - what we would typically think of as healthy metagame discussion taking over a game, whereas the arguing is generally just a breakdown of the social situation.
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Judd
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« Reply #5 on: December 20, 2005, 06:39:09 AM »

I've seen arguments disrupt and overwhelm a game, but I think that's different from what you're talking about which - what we would typically think of as healthy metagame discussion taking over a game, whereas the arguing is generally just a breakdown of the social situation.

No, this is apples to the orange discussed above.

I think out of game talk has been a real boon to my table and the main reason for our recent high batting average.  But I'm constantly keeping an eye out, making sure our pendulum hasn't gone entirely in the other direction so that we are now sitting and talking about gaming rather than gaming.  It hasn't happened but I'm just leery of it is all.
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Bret Gillan
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Posts: 375

That's Bret with one 't' damn it.


« Reply #6 on: December 20, 2005, 06:54:18 AM »

I find it unlikely that it would happen since metagame discussion emerges from gameplay, so in a situation where gameplay is being smothered by discussion eventually the discussion would dwindle.

It seems like it would be self-correcting.
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Judd
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« Reply #7 on: December 20, 2005, 09:22:59 AM »

I find it unlikely that it would happen since metagame discussion emerges from gameplay, so in a situation where gameplay is being smothered by discussion eventually the discussion would dwindle.

It seems like it would be self-correcting.

"Aye, we are talking too much, let's fucking play!"

"Right, let's play."

*play ensues*

Right.
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TonyLB
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« Reply #8 on: December 20, 2005, 09:41:38 AM »

Or, quite possibly, if the discussion never dwindles then you have discovered that your group isn't really a gaming group:  they're an RPG Theory group, and they just didn't know it.

Oh, and "Turn minion X against master Y" has never yet failed me as a goal.  I'm glad you had fun with it.  Everybody loves that one, win or lose, whatever way the sides break out.  "Seduce mistreated sidekick (and is there any other kind?) to the side of evil" is the same thing, just morality-flipped.  I always keep an eye out for these in convention games, they're such reliable winners.

Out of interest, which side was Thresher on?  Loyal to Mother Matron, rolling on her side?  Or fighting for his own freedom?  Or something else?
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Bret Gillan
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Posts: 375

That's Bret with one 't' damn it.


« Reply #9 on: December 20, 2005, 09:47:23 AM »

It was pointed out to me last night that Matron Mother was not actually the name of the villain, it was Mother Magdalene. Matron Mother is some sort of Drow position, which is weird because I never played D&D.

Anyhow, Thresher was on Mother Magdalene's side initially - we haven't totally worked out their story yet, but we have this vague sense that he's a demon she summoned, and there was this weird maternal relationship between them. After Thresher had killed all the Jamaican gang members Mother Magdalene was petting him and cooing. Spider then corrupted that, and he fled as Mother Magdalene saw a better tool for her purposes - Spider.

I'm actually interested in pursuing a weird love triangle plot with Spider, Thresher, and Mother Magdalene. Hopefully I can develop that the next time we play.
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TonyLB
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« Reply #10 on: December 20, 2005, 09:57:24 AM »

On behalf of the viewing public, let me be the first to say:  "Eeeeeeuuuuuughggggggh!  That's ... that's just icky on every conceivable level!"

And also, "Yes, you should totally do that."
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Jeremiah Lahnum
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« Reply #11 on: December 21, 2005, 03:00:48 PM »

I just wanted to jump in here and post my thoughts on the game.  I'm Jere as Bret calls me. 

I agree with Bret on most of what he's posted, here so far.  I think that our rustiness will go away and we'll begin to really build off of each other once we get things going.  This first session was just us feeling out the system again, and getting a feel for the three way group dynamic.  This is I think the first game in which just the three of us have played.  Usually we have at least one more player.  Still, by the end of the first session I think we were all working with the system much more smoothly.

As for the conflict issue, this was a bit of a revelation for me.  When I first came to the table I was very much in the mode of thinking purely in the physical sense when it comes to conflict.  It took a bit to realize that oftentimes this can fall flat.   I think that in the future I'll be more mindful of this and strive to create some more interesting conflicts. 

One confusion I find that I have with this game is that it seems very hard to determine in what order we should be resolving goals.  For example at one point I had a goal down for the Thresher that was "Protect Mother Magdelena."  In the same turn Bret had a goal down for Spider that was "Turn the Thresher against Mother Magdelena."  We both resolved those goals in our favor during the same turn.  I'm unsure of how these goals can both resolve favorably for the person who won the conflict, as they seem to run counter to one another.  In the end, I had the Thresher just walk away from the fighting that was taking place between Spider and Mother Magdelena.   The was pretty cool in some ways, but it was not the original intent I had for the Thresher's actions. 

I guess my question is,  how can you resolve two conflicting goals that are achieved in the same turn?   I can think of more extreme examples where you could really get into a tight spot narratively.

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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #12 on: December 21, 2005, 07:36:02 PM »

at one point I had a goal down for the Thresher that was "Protect Mother Magdelena."  In the same turn Bret had a goal down for Spider that was "Turn the Thresher against Mother Magdelena."  We both resolved those goals in our favor during the same turn....I guess my question is,  how can you resolve two conflicting goals that are achieved in the same turn? 

Fun! Let me give you some possibilities for your specific case:

1) "Turn Thresher against Mother" resolves first, then "Protect Mother": Thresher decides, deep in his/its heart, that Mother Magdelena is bad and vile (i.e. turns against her), but still stops Spider's attack
  1a) out of sheer bloody stubborn persistence, and he'll kill Mother later, dammit
  1b) out of a peculiar sense of honor that will not let Thresher change sides and attack Mother until his duty (i.e. to protect her from Spider) is done
  1c) out of hatred for Spider that burns only the hotter now that Spider has broken Thresher's bond to Mother
  1d) because Spider shouldn't get to kill Mother, that's Thresher's right
  1e) by mistake, with Thresher getting in Spider's way in his sheer blind raging desire to get at Mother
  1f) by mistake, because of a comical and Mr. Magoo-like series of escalating mishaps

2) "Protect Mother" resolves first, then "Turn Thresher against Mother": Thresher protects Mother successfully, and then realizes, even as he/it pounds Spider into the ground, that Mother is bad and wrong -- and then
  2a) resolves not to protect her anymore
  2b) turns to attack her
  2c) walks away in disgust
  2d) turns on Spider, 'cause everyone was happy 'till Spider got here, dammit!

That's just two quick sets of options, without assuming any unorthodox interpretations of "protect" or "turn." (N.B. Experienced Capes player on closed course, do not attempt!). And you can always change your mind about what you're going to narrate if you win. E.g. in the long, longrunning game I'm in with Tony, he introduced a Goal to kill one of my favorite villains. I thought about it, realized that it was in fact the perfect time in her story for her to die -- and then fought him with mighty investments of resources to take control of the Conflict not to prevent her death, but to narrate it my way.
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TonyLB
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« Reply #13 on: December 21, 2005, 09:38:54 PM »

See, I take things from so much more of a simple angle than Sydney.  We have just learned that Thresher is no longer a person who is on Mother Magdalene's side.  At the same time we learn that he still is a person who wants to protect her.

It's hard to protect somebody at the same time you fight against them.  That's cool.  He wants to defeat her, but he doesn't want her to be hurt.  Man, that's just a whole heap of tragedy waiting to happen.
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Eric Sedlacek
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TheCzech


« Reply #14 on: December 22, 2005, 07:41:33 AM »

It is also worth mentioning that one thing we have discovered in our campaign of Capes is that there really is no such thing as incompatable goals.  Okay, sure there is in theory, but in practice the ones you think are in conflict really aren't.  There is always a way to narrate both.  In fact, when two goals that appear to work at cross purposes resolve, that is when you get some of your best moments.
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