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Author Topic: Communal Non-Person Characters (Mysteries in Capes II: Electric Boogaloo)  (Read 4407 times)
drnuncheon
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Posts: 155

Some call me Jeff


« on: March 16, 2006, 07:13:52 AM »

Back here, in my Mysteries in Capes thread, I promised some of my own thoughts - but I got sidetracked and I didn't want to derail that discussion.

So, here's one of them, much late but maybe a bit better defined: Communal Non-Person Characters

The idea is that, in any given scene, you could have a location or a situation as a character "out on the table" that is not attached to any particular player.  Any player can use one of that communal character's abilities during their own action instead of one of their own.  (For obvious reasons, these characters shouldn't have any debt-generating abilities.)

So, for a mystery, the "Mystery" situation sits out in the center of the table.  My character wants a clue, but he doesn't have anything that seems appropriate in his own sheet, so he picks "Apparent Lead" and rolls a die.  The next player could react with one of his own abilities - or maybe he'd use "Contradiction" or "Theory Proven Wrong".

You'd have to decide how those communal NPCs got out there, of course: my first instinct would be to say that the player setting the scene has the option.  If you've got people responsible for A and B plots, they might be the ones to choose.

I'll note that this was actually what I thought Tony meant with the rules for Non-Person characters at first (the section on Locations says "The location can be thought of as adding a new set of Abilities to the characters there.")  Reading again cleared it up, but still - what if?

What's the impact likely to be? Since all of the abilities should be blocking abilities - usable once per Scene - it has the potential to extend scenes, but I don't think it would be by too much.  Since they're available to all people, it wouldn't be providing an undue advantage to any one player.

But how would players view these additional resources?  Would there be a rush on them, to avoid checking off things on their own sheet and to deny them to the opposition?  If so, you'd rush through the situation and be left with the characters facing off against each other - but then nobody would have any debt built up to provide story tokens.  Then again, people might use their powers early on to get that debt, knowing that they'll have their own non-powered abilities and the potential for the communal NPCs to work with later to avoid overdraft.

J
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Hans
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Posts: 576


« Reply #1 on: March 16, 2006, 07:43:41 AM »

This is a very interesting thought.  What circumstances do you see where this mechanic would be better than either a) a conflict of some sort to represent aspects of the situation or b) a non-person charcter under the control of only one person?  To take your specific example, under what circumstances would you think "Mystery" would be BETTER under the control of everyone, as opposed to under the control of just one person? 

I ask these questions because I am trying to get a handle on whether you have perceived what you think is a difficulty with Capes in telling some kinds of stories which you are trying to correct, or proposing a new mechanic that you think might be cool to use. 

As to its effect on the game, I'm not sure it would have much effect one way or another mechanically.  People still need debt, so a lot of the time they will use their own abilities anyway.  I'm not sure it would extend the length of a scene because that has more to do with people's desire to lay and claim conflicts, and not much, I think, to do with how many blocking abilities they have left on their sheets. 

Narratively, its main effect is to give people a tool to use their action to describe something that deals with the situation, but not directly with their characters.  It seems to me that given the narrative freedom Capes provides, it would be rare that a person couldn't figure out some way to narrate something they want to narrate, but this might make it easier to come up with extra stuff ("The cops find evidence on the grounds of the manor house")

I don't mean to sound like I am dissing your idea here, because I'm not.  I'm trying to get a good handle on what you think it would add to the game.  How do you foresee a game session going with one of these things on the table, and how would it be different (presumably better) than if the the NPC was controlled by only one person? 

One alternate suggestion: an alternative would be to make a house rule that the "Mystery" character MUST be played in every scene, but it rotates around the table.  Perhaps the scene framer always controls the "Mystery" character, and has to pay a story token to control something else.  Or perhaps the scene framer controls the "Mystery" character for free.  Or perhaps the "Mystery" character changes around the table during the course of a scene each page, and is under the control of the page starter.  I suggest these not because I think it is better or worse than what you suggest, but only as a thought experiment.

Also, it seems like some of what you may be trying to achieve in a mystery could be achieved by carefully designed events, programmed to appear at different points.  For example:

(1) Event: Someone finds out what is in the cellar.
(2) Event: The murderer kills again!
(3) Event: The murderer is revealed, and someone describes exactly how the murder was committed.

But this smacks of hijacking your thread, so I will stop there.
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drnuncheon
Member

Posts: 155

Some call me Jeff


« Reply #2 on: March 16, 2006, 09:15:21 AM »

This is a very interesting thought.  What circumstances do you see where this mechanic would be better than either a) a conflict of some sort to represent aspects of the situation or b) a non-person character under the control of only one person?  To take your specific example, under what circumstances would you think "Mystery" would be BETTER under the control of everyone, as opposed to under the control of just one person?

Hmm.  Here's a rough pattern of my thought process.  Let's say the situation is a chase. 

In standard Capes, one of the players - let's say its the pursuer - might toss down a story token to get a second character, Chase, which would give them extra actions and abilities to help them control what's going on.

But the pursuee is in the chase, too.  And I'm willing to bet that most people don't have a set of abilities that would be geared towards being in a car chase.  And it'd make the chase more interesting if they got to use abilities like 'squealing tires' and 'dodging pedestrians' and 'conveniently placed ramplike object'.

It occurs to me just now that they, too, could spend a story token for their own 'Chase' character. I hadn't thought of that before.  Still, it somehow seems more elegant/intuitive to me for a single situation (or a location) to be able to be manipulated by all people involved.

Quote
I suggest these not because I think it is better or worse than what you suggest, but only as a thought experiment.

This whole idea's a thought experiment, so suggest away!  I gave that method a bit of thought with my A plot/B plot suggestions, but it does veer away from the idea I was moving towards.  It might work for certain types of situations and not for others.
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TonyLB
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« Reply #3 on: March 16, 2006, 09:31:53 AM »

Seems like it would lend itself to the Tragedy of the Commons even more than actual commons.  I have an active incentive to use the common character before my own character.  Doing that deprives other people of resources that could be used to defray their own costs (their debt, my later Story Tokens) while allowing me to husband my own personal resources.

Indeed, it would be even better for me to use the highest common abilities first.  If I get rid of the common character's only five then other players are more likely to be forced (directly or indirectly) to accrue debt.  If they want to roll a five, it's either one of their powers (direct) or their one 5 check-off (indirect).

So, if presented with such rules I (being a ruthless, manipulative, game-optimizing sort) would work my way through the common abilities, starting with the highest (yep!  rolling a 1 with a 5 ability) and working my way down.  Only when it became impossible to roll the dice I wanted with common abilities would I start using my own character's abilities.

I'm not sure what sort of player behavior, vis-a-vis interaction and storytelling, this would create.  Thoughts?
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Hans
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« Reply #4 on: March 16, 2006, 10:05:07 AM »

In standard Capes, one of the players - let's say its the pursuer - might toss down a story token to get a second character, Chase, which would give them extra actions and abilities to help them control what's going on.

But the pursuee is in the chase, too.  And I'm willing to bet that most people don't have a set of abilities that would be geared towards being in a car chase.  And it'd make the chase more interesting if they got to use abilities like 'squealing tires' and 'dodging pedestrians' and 'conveniently placed ramplike object'.

I think I see where you are going.  I would like to point out that there is nothing that prevents any other player in the game ALSO spending a story token, and gaining an instance of the NPC "Chase" for themselves, perhaps with different traits that interest them more ("Big pane of glass crossing the road", "Watch out for the baby carriage!").  This did not occur to me until I read your example above.  In addition, by spending the story token, they get an extra action per turn for the character.  In fact, one assumes they could still spend a story token even with your rule in place to gain an instance of "Chase" that gives them an extra action per turn.   

As to Tony's request for thoughts, now that I have made the connection above in my mind, I really don't think this change would make much difference in a group that has some experience playing Capes.  It seems to me it is more a tool to set a mood or common goal of play in a scene, then something that makes a big difference mechanically.  Its a way of saying; for example, "This scene is about a car chase, and you can gain a token benefit if you narrate things about that."
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drnuncheon
Member

Posts: 155

Some call me Jeff


« Reply #5 on: March 16, 2006, 10:11:03 AM »

So, if presented with such rules I (being a ruthless, manipulative, game-optimizing sort) would work my way through the common abilities, starting with the highest (yep!  rolling a 1 with a 5 ability) and working my way down.  Only when it became impossible to roll the dice I wanted with common abilities would I start using my own character's abilities.

So how would that come out in play?  A great deal would depend on the situation/location (and the Goals involved), I expect.  If you were in a car chase, there'd be a lot of squealing tires and car action at the beginning, and then power use and such in the middle, and then down to attitudes and non-powered styles at the end as people want to slow down on the debt collection.

One thing your tactics would do, though, is slow down goals that your character is invested in.  Since you're not collecting debt, nobody is going to want to farm you for story tokens, so nobody is going to push you.  If you really relish the white-hot outrage you mentioned in the other thread, slashing-and-burning the common resources might be counterproductive...

J
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drnuncheon
Member

Posts: 155

Some call me Jeff


« Reply #6 on: March 16, 2006, 10:14:27 AM »

It seems to me it is more a tool to set a mood or common goal of play in a scene, then something that makes a big difference mechanically.  Its a way of saying; for example, "This scene is about a car chase, and you can gain a token benefit if you narrate things about that."

I wasn't exactly sure what I was circling around, but I think you nailed it right there.

J
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TonyLB
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« Reply #7 on: March 16, 2006, 12:49:34 PM »

I wasn't exactly sure what I was circling around, but I think you nailed it right there.

Ahhh ... cool!  I think Hans is right that it would do that.  Interesting.  It's sort of like "roleplaying bonusses" but made in a very specific way that lets players just reach out and take it, rather than perform and hope that someone rewards them.
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TonyLB
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« Reply #8 on: March 16, 2006, 12:52:06 PM »

One thing your tactics would do, though, is slow down goals that your character is invested in.  Since you're not collecting debt, nobody is going to want to farm you for story tokens, so nobody is going to push you.  If you really relish the white-hot outrage you mentioned in the other thread, slashing-and-burning the common resources might be counterproductive...

Agreed.  I'd want to step up the number of rolls that I Reacted on, in order to keep a healthy (not too little, not too much) flow of Debt.
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