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Author Topic: "Capeless Capes", or using Capes for other genres  (Read 15016 times)
DainXB
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Posts: 36


« on: December 30, 2005, 11:39:42 PM »

Greetings!

I love superheroes, but some of my gaming friends aren't so in love with that particular genre, so...

Has anyone put thought into using the Capes mechanics for other genres besides superheroes?  (Espionage, western, crime drama, etc.)

It certainly seems flexible enough narratively and mechanically, but the initial problem would be that characters without 'powers' cannot ever earn Debt -- which shuts down the resource-engine of the game right there.   

My thought is that in a no-supers game, Attributes categorized as 'Skills' could work like 'Powers' and earn Debt.  Also, all characters would need Drives, not just the now-non-existent 'powered' characters.

I think that this might work, but I'm not sure about 'partly-powered' genres, where some characters have powers and some don't, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or most traditional fantasy worlds.  (In 'old school' fantasy, wizards and clerics have skills and powers, fighters and thieves just have skills unless they use magic items.)  Will it skew the game to allow some charcters to use their Skills repetitively as if they were Powers?

I've come to the conclusion that this is merely a nomenclature problem; i.e. anything can be a Power, even something usually regarded as a Skill, so it makes no difference to the rules system.  This would allow a character in a 'normal cops' game who has the Detective click-and-lock to use 'Shoot' with impunity, in the same way that a super with the Shootist click-and-lock uses 'Shoot' in a regular Capes game.

I thought that I would run this past the experienced Capes players here on the forum before I tried it for real.  Any thoughts or comments?

Thanks;

Dain
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Lxndr
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« Reply #1 on: December 31, 2005, 05:48:36 AM »

A "power" in Capes is simply "a trait that can be used to earn Debt" as far as I can tell.  In theory, you could have a person with normal-people stuff as Powers (like "Banking" and the like) and a person with supernormal-people stuff as Skills (like throwing fire).  In the end, imho, it really depends on how "important" the character is to the story, rather than whether or not the "power" fits into some supernatural category.

IMHO, a character that you can give "drives" to has Powers, even if the Powers aren't "super".  This means in, say, fantasy, your Fighter's skills are powers, and so is your magic-user's magic.
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TonyLB
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« Reply #2 on: December 31, 2005, 06:23:35 AM »

Well, a power is a trait that must earn debt when it is used.  That's subtly different from one that simply can be used to earn debt.

In Capes it isn't the super-powers that make a character more important to the story.  It's the debt those super-powers force upon them.  The difference between being able to use a level-5 ability once a scene, or twenty times a scene is a noticeable difference, yes.  But the difference between being able to have one die or three on your side of the conflict is crucial, as is the motivating effect of offering story tokens as a bribe for your victory.

So if you take "Baking" and turn it into a super-power, that doesn't make that much difference on its own.  Sure, you can Bake more often and importantly than you could otherwise.  Not a huge difference.

But when you say that every time a character Bakes they become that much more committed to standing for their moral principles ... that is a big, big deal in this system.  That changes what Baking is to them ... it's not just something they do, it's something they are.  Using it drives the story, even if you the player don't want it to drive the story.  You're committed:  when you use Baking, you're saying that at some later point you will stand up for your moral principles.

Because of that, I believe that you'll find that any genre you play with Capes will feel, in some ways, like superheroes.  That was what I was aiming to do.  You can get rid of the capes and spandex and lightning bolts.  That's easy.  But if you're running an Iron Chef game under Capes, I think you'll still find that your protagonists end up shouting things like "No!  Your use of squid is skillful, but I cannot lose!  My dead father's honor depends upon me!  My sauce-pan is filled to overflowing ... with JUSTICE!"

So the question I have for you is this:  which part of superheroes do your other players object to?  Is it the trappings?  Or is it the heart?  'cuz if they object to the heart of it (saucepans of justice, IMHO) then Capes is going to be fighting them all the way.  Make sense?
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Doug Ruff
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« Reply #3 on: December 31, 2005, 07:22:15 AM »


But when you say that every time a character Bakes they become that much more committed to standing for their moral principles ... that is a big, big deal in this system.  That changes what Baking is to them ... it's not just something they do, it's something they are.  Using it drives the story, even if you the player don't want it to drive the story.  You're committed:  when you use Baking, you're saying that at some later point you will stand up for your moral principles.


Tony, I know you like a good discussion, so I hope you won't mind if I insert this comment (also, it should be relevant to the original query, so we're all good, right?)

The moral principles thing is - of course - spot on, but I don't think that 'superheroic' play is a necessary consequence of these mechanics. Instead, I think that the Debt <-> moral principles equivalence acts as a driver for dramatic (or melodramatic!) play. To me, it's the rest of the system that specifically supports 'superheroic' tropes.

Specifically: I think the reason Capes tends to move quickly into 'superheroic' mode has far more to do with the interaction of the Comics Code, and the extreme power players have over narrative rights during play (and especially, the fact that these narrative rights trump any 'continuity' issues other players may have.) Add the way the system rewards introducing elements that specifically challenge and 'grab' the other players, and you end up wth a play environment that specifically encourages and rewards a certain 'top that!' style of narration.

Now, I don't think that this setup exclusively demands a superheroic theme, but it sure as hell gives it fertile ground to grow in. And tweaking the superficial 'colour' elements of the game (such as renaming Hope/Justice etc. into something else) doesn't change things that much.

To bring this all into some useful advice for the original poster: start with the Comics Code. As well as setting the colour for the game, the Code does more than anything else to 'enforce' limits on narration that will fit the game into the genre you're looking for. Example at random:  if you want a classic Star Trek vibe for the game, make sure the Code specfies that any supporting character in a red shirt must be killed before the end of a scene. If you want a gritty modern setting, include a rule that says that if guns get drawn in a scene, someone will get killed or seriously wounded. And so on.
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Kintara
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« Reply #4 on: December 31, 2005, 07:10:58 PM »

Hmm, I think a crime/espionage game would work well.  It has the moral/emotional element of using your talents but paying for it later on.  The game would feel more "super spy" than gritty, though.

Swashbuckling heroes might also work very well.

I could see running it as "Eldritch Ass Kicking" style fantasy.
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DainXB
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Posts: 36


« Reply #5 on: January 01, 2006, 12:49:45 AM »

Thanks everyone for all the input!  Especially thanks to TonyLB.  (I love the Forge -- I can post a hypothetical question about a game I like, and the designer himself posts back with incisive advice the very next day!)

Tony's point about Debt makes a lot of sense, and it's an aspect of the system I had not considered.  Where a character puts his Debt is where he makes his stand.  Supers do that with their Powers.  In a standard game of Capes, normal characters aren't as important as supers -- so they don't get Debt.  For normal people, in a normal world, taking any dramatic action in puirsuit of a goal or an ideal is taking a moral stand, whether it's using a skill, or just arguing a position in dialogue. 

I still think Capes could work for 'normal-scale' settings -- provided they are as intense as the typical superhero comic.  (Which I think is just restating Tony's point.) 

Kintara's suggestion of Swashbucklers or Espionage setings would be good, because they are suitably intense.  'Iron Chef' would come off like one of those weird manga with sushi-chef protagonists, where everything is over-dramatized and (to Western eyes at least) surreal.  If I try using the Capes system for a serious crime drama, I suspect I will wind up with 'The Shield' rather than ''Starsky & Hutch'.  Not that thiat is necessarily a bad thing...

Here's another idea for a tweak to this -- in a 'normals game', normals get only undifferentiated Debt.  (Anyone with Powers gets regular Drives, if there are both powered and unpowered characters in mixed settings like Buffy.)  The undifferentiated Debt doesn't represent 'taking a moral stand' per se -- it represents the characters striving to take charge of their lives in the face of a largely uncaring universe.  When they take action, they earn Debt which they stake in turn on the Goals that mean something to them.  Maybe not because of the big ideals like Truth, Justice, or Despair, but because of the smaller ideals, the concerns of the ordinary guy -- not JUSTICE, (in caps!), but merely fair treatment or fair dealing; not Truth, just honesty; not Honor, just self-respect.  Normal characters with undifferenitated Debt aren't 'one-dimensional', they just aren't 'four-color' like supers are.  Undifferentiated Debt turns the intensity down just one notch.

Whaddaya think?

Dain


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Hans
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Posts: 576


« Reply #6 on: January 03, 2006, 02:46:20 PM »

As a complete novice, it seems to me that any sub-genre where what a character does is unrelated to what the character achieves and where the characters usually have strongly held codes of action might be suitable for Capes, .  I use the word sub-genre very carefully here, because genre is too big a word.  Take Westerns for example: the feel of "The Searchers" or "High Noon" or even "Maverick" is inapproriate for Capes, but the tone of the Sergio Leone westerns, or their derivatives, such as Raimi's "The Quick and the Dead" might be perfect.  "The Quick and the Dead" is actually perfect, because this movie is essentially a super-hero movie with very limited power sets. 

Some other options:

- Hong Kong-type action, especially period action such as "Once Upon a Time in China" or "Crouching Tiger...", I think, could be done using Capes.  The more outlandish the better.  More modern, gun-fu type setting (think John Woo) would probably not work very well.

- Samurai movies.  Every action of a samurai is charged with moral and ethical connotations, because of their code and the society they live in.  Their powers would be special techniques ("Water hidden blade") or trademark gimmicks ("Young Son in Baby Cart").  This could also work, I think, for Arthurian knights.  The names of the Drives would probably need to be changed to reflect the bushido or chivalric codes.

- Horror movies, with a subtle change.  In a horror movie Capes game, Superheroes become Monsters and all have one shot powers, while the protagonists have traits which earn debt.  Such traits might include "Clever Planning" or "Quick Device Kluge" or "Throw other person in the way".  This is probably more suited, though, to a 50's style horror movie, where the protagonists have the capability to stop the menace, as opposed to more modern horror, where fundamentally the menace is unstoppable and its simply a question of what creative way each protagonist will buy it before blind luck causes the menance to be stopped.

I think the problem with all of the above is that unless you are completely steeped in the sub-genre in question, coming up with interesting descriptions of the different powers is problematic.  Almost anyone alive in Western society today can at least take a stab at coming up with a set of powers for a superhero, or just use a click and lock.  But how many could come up with five interesting powers and three interesting styles for a Samurai?    Also, someone else mentioned a comics code as an important part of the set up for the game...what would be the "Comics Code" for a Samurai themed Capes game?  I will have to think about that one, as I sit down tomorrow night to watch the copy of a Lone Wolf and Cub movie I checked out from my library...
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Eric Sedlacek
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Posts: 135

TheCzech


« Reply #7 on: January 04, 2006, 09:19:28 AM »

Capes really only works with superheroes, but some things are superheroes in disguise.  Heroic fantasy, some westerns (as previously mentioned), even Buffy the Vampire Slayer, can all be modelled as superheroic storytelling...in the latter case, you can't tell Xander's story, but you can tell Buffy's, Willow's, or Spike's.

There must be people who have abilities above and beyond most other people.  There must be some sort of pressure on those people as a result of their specialness.  "Power is fun, but do you deserve it?"  It's not just the theme of the game, it is the game.
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Andrew Cooper
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« Reply #8 on: January 04, 2006, 10:25:40 AM »

I'm not sure I agree with you, Czech.  I am, of course, open to being persuaded.

When I play Capes (up to this point anyways), the question "Power is fun but do you deserve it?" is fairly transparent.  It gets some attention because the resourse mechanic is directly tied to it but that's about it.  I game the system.  I use Powers because they get me resourses to do more stuff.  It's that simple.  I rarely think about the question.  In fact, my hypothesis is that the only reason the question is important is that the resource mechanic happens to be tied to Super Powers.  If you remove Super Powers and tie the resourse mechanic to something else, then the question will change.

For example, if you make Capes a NASCAR themed game and replace Super Powers with Driving Skills then you've got a game where driving cars is central to the game instead of Powers.  Driving a car is something anyone can do.  I'm not sure what the new question for this game would be but it'd have something to do with why the characters race cars.

I propose that you could do this with almost any genre.  The Powers simply get replaced with whatever skill/thing that is important to the genre/game.  The replacement might be something that lots of people could do but that something is central to characters who have them as "Powers" in the game.

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Eric Sedlacek
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TheCzech


« Reply #9 on: January 04, 2006, 11:39:46 AM »

I'm not sure I agree with you, Czech.  I am, of course, open to being persuaded.

Hey, if somone uses the mechanic and has fun while dodging the idea behind debt, then I'm not going to say they aren't, but I think that's pretty boring long-term.  It works for beer and pretzels or for a con game, but for a long-term game, the character is everything, and debt is how the character interacts with the game.

When I am playing Capes, there is no point in the game when the amount of debt I have on my character is irrelevant.  It's his mood, his motivations, and his makeup.  It seeps into my narration, probably in ways I don't even realize.  When a scene ends, it's not the end narration that tells me how the scene affected that character, it's his pile of debt.  How much is there?  What drives are overdrawn?  How is it different from when the scene started?  I know Tony and Sydney do this too.  I've witnessed it.

Sure, you don't have to do this.  Maybe you don't find this interesting, but I can't imagine letting this tool for more rich storytelling go unused.

When I play Capes (up to this point anyways), the question "Power is fun but do you deserve it?" is fairly transparent.  It gets some attention because the resourse mechanic is directly tied to it but that's about it.  I game the system.  I use Powers because they get me resourses to do more stuff.  It's that simple.  I rarely think about the question.  In fact, my hypothesis is that the only reason the question is important is that the resource mechanic happens to be tied to Super Powers.  If you remove Super Powers and tie the resourse mechanic to something else, then the question will change.

Everybody games the system, but I'll bet you don't game it as much as you think you do.  Do you bother to pay down debt when your character is getting filled up?  If so, why? 

From a strictly mechanical sense, being loaded down with debt is almost meaningless.  The penalty is having to roll down the sides of up to five conflicts your character is allied with.  The reality of play is that most conflicts are won or lost mostly within a single page.  In my experience, many times overdrawn characters don't even have anything to roll down since all the conflicts they participated in got resolved last page. 

So, to truly game the system, one would pile on debt indiscriminantly and just use it when needed for narrative control.  Eventually, you would have every poker chip in your house on one character, but it would be of only minor inconvenient to you in play.

In spite of this realization, I still pay down debt, and not just when I need to split a die.  I do it because I care about my character's debt level. 

For example, if you make Capes a NASCAR themed game and replace Super Powers with Driving Skills then you've got a game where driving cars is central to the game instead of Powers.  Driving a car is something anyone can do.  I'm not sure what the new question for this game would be but it'd have something to do with why the characters race cars.

Driving is something anybody can do just like running and punching are things everyone can do.  But you can't run like the Flash or punch like Superman.  You probably also can't drive like Dale Earnhardt, Jr.  Being among the best of the best is a Power under another name.  Does debt make sense here?  I don't know.  It depends on your approach.  If it doesn't, why use Capes?

I propose that you could do this with almost any genre.  The Powers simply get replaced with whatever skill/thing that is important to the genre/game.  The replacement might be something that lots of people could do but that something is central to characters who have them as "Powers" in the game.

You could indeed, but you wouldn't have a game that is nearly as interesting to me.

For me, debt is like the town creation system in Dogs in the Vineyard.   After a little casual play, it seems like a neat little mechanical tool, but after extended play, it is revealed as the gas in the game's tank.  Town creation is a blueprint for progression through the session in Dogs.  Debt is a reason to give a damn about the story you are telling in Capes.

You can use the Dogs system to play outside the universe.  The character attributes and conflict resolution mechanics transfer easily to another genre.  The problem is that once the town creation system has been abandoned, it just isn't as interesting as playing Dogs.  (I've seen this firsthand.  It really, really isn't.)

When you remove "Power is fun, but do you deserve it?" from Capes, you get the same thing.  Sure, you can use most of the rules in another genre and probably have some fun doing it, but it would be like settling for a Twinkie when you could have had an eclair.
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Andrew Cooper
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« Reply #10 on: January 04, 2006, 01:15:59 PM »

Czech (You got a real name?),

I'll bow to your arguments until I've played a longer term game.  I've don't have that experience yet so what you're saying might very well be the case once the serious storytelling and character development gets underway.  In any case, I can certainly see your point of view.

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Eric Sedlacek
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Posts: 135

TheCzech


« Reply #11 on: January 04, 2006, 02:01:05 PM »

Czech (You got a real name?),

Indeed I do.  It's Eric.

I'll bow to your arguments until I've played a longer term game.  I've don't have that experience yet so what you're saying might very well be the case once the serious storytelling and character development gets underway.  In any case, I can certainly see your point of view.

I would very much like to hear the reactions of other people once they have played more.  Right now, the sample size is quite small.  For me it's all about the angst, and that's been true for me in gaming well before Tony started developing this game.

Play on and share!
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #12 on: January 04, 2006, 02:28:17 PM »

Capes works for "superpowers" in a totally non-physics sense -- it's pure story-logic. Leaping tall buildings in a single bound, firing laser beams out of my eyes, driving like Dale Earnhardt, whatever, they all qualify as "super" if and only if the character cares about them so intensely it drives what they do and who they are.

I suspect you could do a high school anime game where all sorts of mundane activities like making someone a bento lunchbox were "super," because those characters positively shudder with passion about everything they do. Conversely, you can do superheroes with world-smashing might as characters with no powers and no Debt if their passion doesn't really impact the story.
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Uhlrik
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« Reply #13 on: May 09, 2006, 10:52:11 PM »

When you remove "Power is fun, but do you deserve it?" from Capes, you get the same thing.  Sure, you can use most of the rules in another genre and probably have some fun doing it, but it would be like settling for a Twinkie when you could have had an eclair.

The more I read the Capes rules, the more I see thegame's iconic catchphrase as having at best a tangential relationship to the superpowers themselves. What power is it referring to, then? In my eyes, it's narrative power. The power to control the game, the characters, the setting and the course of history. To me, the question is aimed squarely at the player on a metagame level. Are you, as a player, willing to step up to the bat, take charge of the story and not only take the necessary steps to exercise power to get what you want, but to face the responsibilities inherent to its exercise and pay the price?
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Tuxboy
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Posts: 125


« Reply #14 on: May 10, 2006, 01:56:38 AM »

Quote
What power is it referring to, then? In my eyes, it's narrative power. The power to control the game, the characters, the setting and the course of history. To me, the question is aimed squarely at the player on a metagame level. Are you, as a player, willing to step up to the bat, take charge of the story and not only take the necessary steps to exercise power to get what you want, but to face the responsibilities inherent to its exercise and pay the price?

Excellent point, well made.

I agree...the character's powers and the debt they produce are, for me, the mechanic that allows me to go for the real "power", the power to drive the narration.
The genre and the nature of the powers doesn't make a difference, whether it is "Sonic Scream" in a supers game or "Strike Mighty Blow" in a fantasy game they serve the same purpose, to allow you to interact with the other players and influence the narration.

I don't think that the concept of powers should be removed from a non-supers game, with a little effort you can come up with abilities that can act as powers for the characters, powers are central to the mechanic after all, but as Tony says you will always end end with that comicbook feel. Fantasy will be Epic Fantasy, SciFi will be Space Opera SciFi...it is unavoidable, and given the system, it shouldn't be avoided...its what makes it work.
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Doug

"Besides the day I can't maim thirty radioactive teenagers is the day I hang up my coat for good!" ...Midnighter
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