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Author Topic: The Silly Limit: unique to Capes, unique to me?  (Read 18170 times)
Hans
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« on: March 08, 2007, 07:14:06 AM »

In a separate thread, I attempted to coin a new term, called the Silly Limit, as follows:

Quote
The Silly Limit is the greatest amount of seriousness that can occur in a Capes session.  The interesting thing about the Silly Limit is that it can never RISE in a Capes game, it can only be as high as least serious thing that has been said during the course of the game.  The minute someone brings squirrels into the narration, for example, then the game will never be able to rise back above squirrels. The new Silly Limit for that session has been set to "Squirrels allowed".  You can never go back to "Squirrels not allowed".  I think the Silly Limit probably exists in all role-playing games, but it is much more obvious in Capes... 

Tony replied that his experience does not bear out the presence of a Silly Limit, and asked whether or not this worthy of a new thread.  As I found this astonishing, I think it might be.

I say astonishing, because it has been my consistent experience with Capes that unless every player is highly disciplined, the Silly Limit will bring about a decay into absurdity in the story line.  I don't say this as necessarily a bad thing, as it often leads to a lot of riotous laughter, but it has happened often enough that at least one friend of mine, for example, is convinced (through experience only at Convention games) that it is impossible to have a "serious" story told in Capes (at least by his definition of serious). 

The Silly Limit can be maintained at a very high (low? not sure which direction would best imply more capacity for drama) level, but it takes a concerted effort by all the players.  The Silly Limit is a bit of bad name, though, because it doesn't just apply to the seriousness/sillyness axis.  A similar effect can occur along other axes as well as in:

* Increasing "allowed" Super Power level: You may all tentatively agree to something like "lets do a very street level Daredevily type game", but the first time someone describes a car being thrown, you are now into "car-throwing" territory.
* Rating (e.g. G, PG, R): You may be thinking you are playing a G rated Spidermany kind of thing, but the first time someone plays a goal like "Sexually Humiliate Hero X" you have just changed the rating.

I believe this kind of limit effect always exists in Capes, but it is much more pronouced in a four hour "intro" type session, where you are teaching the rules to people, some of whom may have just wandered up and not really know what they are getting into.  In my experience, limit shifting often occurs when a player lets the power Capes provides go to their head, as in the "I bomb the entire city" ploy described in the other thread.  I don't think it is strictly an example of "just don't play with jerks", although that certainly comes into it.  But everyone can be susceptible, even me... 

I remember in one game I was playing (the only long term Capes campaign I've been able to be a part of), we were working through a sort of "business meeting" type scene, when one of my friends suddenly sort of snapped, and had his character take a stilleto heel and drive it through my character's forehead.  I was a bit stunned by this turn of events (so was my friend, I think, as it was a very impulsive action).  Not knowing what else to say, I narrated my character standing up after his character had left the room, saying something like "Good grief, I wish she would stop doing that!  New heads are hard to grow!"  It was a funny scene, but from that moment forward the game shifted markedly in tone: I had just shifted the Silly Limit into "people easily survive stiletto heels to the head" territory.  On reflection, it was a bad move...if I had just left my character bleeding on the floor, the limit would have only shifted to "characters sometimes go inexplicably berserk and stilleto heel people's heads" territory.

When you have a group of people who are familiar with each other, and who take the time to really discuss what the game is about, the limits (whatever they may be) are much easier to maintain.  My first two sessions of Capes at Panda were prime examples of limit shifting games, but my last session (where we really talked about what we wanted and we all knew each other) yielded a fantastic "Breakfast Club meets the Matrix" short story that totally rocked my world and everyone elses.  It maintained a very consistent tone throughout, with some humour, some drama, and lots of teen angst.

Now, since Tony has said this doesn't jibe with his experience, I'm worried.  Is this just me?  Is there something about the games of Capes I organize that encourages this? 

Also, if this limiting thing is not unique to me, but has been experienced by others, is it unique to Capes, or does it exist everywhere and I just PERCEIVE it more in Capes?  I believe it is much more of an issue in "super-hero" type games, where there are so many subtle gradations of genre and mood (from Spider-man to the Tick to the Dark Knight Returns to the New Gods to Swamp Thing) that it is very easy for there to be a disconnect between two players about what the genre and mood should be, even if they discuss things up front.  I remember the same sorts of issues coming up in a long-term game of Mutants and Masterminds that I was a part of.  I think it probably happens in every game, but games with a strong GM just use Fiat to maintain the limits they choose to maintain by force, whether for good or ill. 

I am reminded of an anecdote someone told me about a D&D tournament they were in where one player, apparently due to boredom, had managed to have their character polymorphed into a blind camel, and was simply wandering around the scenario creating vaudevillian humourous situations to the annoyance of everyone else at the table.
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TonyLB
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« Reply #1 on: March 08, 2007, 09:24:26 AM »

I think the root of my different experience may be that I don't think that serious and silly are mutually exclusive.  If I bring forth something from my character that says something important and meaningful about the human condition then it will usually be recognized as serious, even if everything that surrounds it is silly.

Y'know, I was going to invent an example but Eddie Valiant (played by Bob Hoskins) in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is the perfect example already.  You've got a movie that includes animated figures engaged in all manner of silliness, but in the midst of all of it you've got a guy who believed in joy and met with tragedy.  What does it cost him to risk opening up again?  There is no amount of cartoon silliness that can prevent his story from being laden with pathos.

My experience is that if you've got a group that wanted to be serious, and silliness is dissuading them from trying, then even one example to show that it can be done will change the tenor of a game substantially.
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Hans
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« Reply #2 on: March 08, 2007, 10:08:46 AM »

I think we may be talking about different kinds of serious, Tony.  I am speaking more in terms of what happens in the game, and not about why it happens or the emotional impact of it. 

Taking animated films as examples: the Invincibles is an excellent story, full of humour but also full of real emotion and interesting relationships.  Fritz the Cat, while not even remotely as good a movie, is also full of humour, and also has real, raw emotion and interesting relationships.  However, if you start out playing a game of Capes hoping for the one, and end up with the other, then there is likely to be a crisis of expections among the players.   

To take comic books as an example, if you start out hoping for Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four and end up with Miller Daredevil, or vice versa, the ground has shifted underneath you, and you are liable to be dissapointed.  Your enjoying the street-level grit of heroes dealing with the grey zones of vigilantism, when Galactus shows up.  Your grooving on the weird science of the Negative Zone when a posse of Jamaican drug-dealers arrive.  It is likely that the story itself will seem incoherent, when looked back on by the players, because of the radical shift in mood and tone that occurred during the course of it.

Moreover, it takes a lot more talent to combine sillyness with drama.  Who framed Roger Rabbit? is much more difficult to pull off then Batman Begins because you have to put the sillyness in exactly the right places to highlight, instead of distract from, the drama.  Just look at the Schumacher Batman films to see examples of the sillyness killing the drama, instead of coexisting with it or enhancing it.  In my experience, the average RPG player (myself included) simply does not have the talent to be able to improvise this on the spot during a Capes game.  In other words, the minute Daffy Duck shows up, most likely that means you now have a Daffy Duck cartoon, not a film starring Bob Hoskins.  You may find it easy to bring something important and meaningul about the human condition into the middle of a Daffy Duck cartoon, but most of us will find it a lot easier to have him get whacked on the head by his own quarterstaff or shot in the bill by Elmer Fudd.

On your last sentence.  First, you are right, if ALL of the group wants X, then the group will get most likely get X, and even if there is a shift away from X the group will probably steer back to X.  The problem is that if at least one person wants Y, then you really can't do anything to stop a shift to Y.  X/Y can be serious/silly, high-power/street-grit, PG-rated/hard R, or just about any other pair of things that are mutually exclusive.  More importantly, these dichotomies are directional; it is easier to go in one way than the other.  Once Galactus shows up, its a lot harder to go back to fighting local gang members.  Once you get full frontal nudity, its hard to go back to the PG rating.  Once the Bat-Mite shows up, it takes the talent of someone like Grant Morrison to go back to the Dark Knight Returns. 

Second, it could be that you are simply very good at making silly situations say something important and meaningful, and hence provide that example you speak of, while I am not. 
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Bret Gillan
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« Reply #3 on: March 08, 2007, 10:57:49 AM »

I get what you're saying. In a game of Capes we are both pushing and fighting for what we want to see in the game, but also riffing off the people around us. If someone else does something silly, then it's likely to influence the way I push forward and then I'll feel less hesitant to be silly than if I was in a gritty game full of torture and cannibalism. I see this as not a problem or even something that needs to be identified, but simply how Capes works. We're collaboratively defining the tone and feel of the game, and if someone wants to introduce silliness then that's because they want to see that in the game. Now, the Silly Limit idea seems to imply that silly ideas somehow have more power than other ideas - if I introduce something silly then it's more likely to tug the tone of the game in the silly direction. I think really it's just that in a convention game, people are more likely to cut loose, goof around, and not take things like coherent story and drama as seriously as they would in an ongoing home game of Capes.

In the multi-session Capes games I've run with home groups, they've been serious. In the games I've run with Capes veterans who know what they want and know how to use the system to get it, they've been primarily serious. When I run the game with Capes noobs who didn't know what they're getting into, or are spazzing out because they're not used to having the narrative power that Capes gives them, then yeah - the games tend to get silly. However, silliness does not push the "limit" of the game any stronger than anything else.

If we are in a light-hearted game, and then I narrate my character murdering his children and committing suicide, I don't care how silly it has been or will be in the future - I've made a significant push towards the horrific and serious. These limits aren't opposing each other. They're not a spectrum - silly versus serious. I think Roger Rabbit shows that silly and serious are not mutually exclusive. You can have slapstick and absurdity alongside pathos and drama. And no, we might not be pros at executing it, but we're not any better at executing sexy love scenes or dramatic monologues. We just do our best and have fun.

I tend to like games that are horrific and dark. I once played with a couple of my friends who prefer the wacky. What we ended up with was a Garth Ennis-esque darkly comedic comic about an insane and randomly violent gunslinger who hunted demons. They were pushing the silly, but the silly didn't and couldn't stomp out the horror and darkness that I was pushing into the game. I think if someone else is pushing for silly and you're pushing for serious, I think you'll have humorous and serious themes intertwining.
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TonyLB
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« Reply #4 on: March 08, 2007, 11:59:59 AM »

Moreover, it takes a lot more talent to combine sillyness with drama.
I think it takes both more talent and more confidence.

I'm not sure it takes as much talent as you think.  I do it all the time, and honestly, I'm not that good.  But I'm confident that it'll work, and that makes a big difference.

That having been said, Capes does bugger-all to aid a person's confidence in this respect.  Play CoC and you can gibber and wail with complete confidence that you're doing the right thing ... the game system tells you in excruciating detail that going crazy and blowing your brains out is an officially approved choice.  If you needed some reassurance before you took that plunge then the game system provides it in spades.

Play Capes and you're pretty much at the mercy of your fellow players for any encouragement and support you need.  There is no doubt in my mind that that's a weakness in a lot of situations.
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James_Nostack
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« Reply #5 on: March 11, 2007, 02:50:33 PM »

Tony - I know that lately you've said it's valuable for players to spend at least a couple minutes in pre-game discussion to get everyone on the same page.  Why is that?  Because I think it's related to what Hans is talking about.  (Correct me if I've misunderstood you.)

Hans - it's not just you; it's happened to me a couple of times.  Because there's no ability to say "No," in Capes, you're stuck with the stupidest thing narrated.  I haven't played Capes enough to know for sure, but I would guess there are two ways to handle this: the Battle of the Stupid Things in which players push for what they want even if it means ruining the ability of others to enjoy playing the game, or Getting On the Same Page where people are sharing the same expectations.

Capes is a great game when people compete ruthlessly within a larger collaborative framework.  But when that larger framework isn't there, and you hate everything that others are saying, it can be a very bad time.
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TonyLB
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« Reply #6 on: March 16, 2007, 09:37:38 AM »

Tony - I know that lately you've said it's valuable for players to spend at least a couple minutes in pre-game discussion to get everyone on the same page.  Why is that?  Because I think it's related to what Hans is talking about.  (Correct me if I've misunderstood you.)
I think that's right ... pre-game discussion gives people the ability to very quickly get on the same page about the things they're going to tacitly work together on.  You say "I'm thinking Spandex and Science and Silver Age" and everyone goes "Oh yeah, that rocks!" and then you have a pretty good notion that if you toss in an Atomic Reducer to help you all travel to the Microverse then people are going to approve.

That's the framework that you're talking about ... you compete within the context of that stuff that you're doing together, either (a) in order to be the one who does it best or (b) in order to address the things you have left off the list, the things that are open to competition.

Without the framework, even when you want to pull together in harness with the other players, you're fumbling around in the dark trying to find the right direction.  You know when you're pushing against someone else (the conflict rules make that instantly clear) but you don't know when you're working alongside them.
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Jon Hastings
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« Reply #7 on: May 15, 2007, 05:38:21 AM »

Hans - For what it's  worth, my (limited) experience with Capes left me with the same conclusion that you've reached.  I was in a a game with James, here (Hi James!), and, even though we did spend a good 20-30 minutes hashing out the kind of game we were looking for and our expectations regarding genre & mood & tone, a tremendous amount of silliness (of the scatological variety) was introduced the first time a goal was resolved.  After that, there was just no going back.

For my part, once (1) I saw that silliness was in the game and (2) I saw that it got a reaction from the other players, it didn't make much sense for me to try to fight to keep it out.
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JohnUghrin
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« Reply #8 on: May 27, 2007, 03:17:09 PM »

Hans - For what it's  worth, my (limited) experience with Capes left me with the same conclusion that you've reached.  I was in a a game with James, here (Hi James!), and, even though we did spend a good 20-30 minutes hashing out the kind of game we were looking for and our expectations regarding genre & mood & tone, a tremendous amount of silliness (of the scatological variety) was introduced the first time a goal was resolved.  After that, there was just no going back.

For my part, once (1) I saw that silliness was in the game and (2) I saw that it got a reaction from the other players, it didn't make much sense for me to try to fight to keep it out.

I'm not sure. There's immediate and delayed gratification as well as dissappointment.

I've been thinking about this "silly limit" problem. I wonder if you couldn't have some kind of comics code rule enforcement rule. Like "Any attempt to inject Monty Python references into the game cost one Story Token"...or something. I suppose this would be most effective if a group has a particular flavor of silliness in which they typically engage, which can then be targeted by the rule. Otherwise, if it just degenerates with the group without any recurrant theme, then I'm not sure what you'd try.
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Hans
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« Reply #9 on: May 28, 2007, 07:55:38 AM »

I have been thinking about this as well, and think the "Silly Limit" is a misnomer, because "sillyness" is just one possible area in which the effect I am thinking of occurs.  Here is a new description.

The Extremes Conjecture: The most extreme narration of a particular type in a Capes games determines the boundaries of future narrations of that type, tend to drive narrations of that type overall towards that extreme.

This gets rid of the previous dichotomous nature (silly/serious) of the Silly Limit. 

Picture an amoeba-like envelope called the Shared Immaginary Space (SIS) moving through a larger multi-dimensional space of all possible SIS's; let's call it Story Space.  Each region of Story Space has its own aroma (the Kirby aroma, the Miller aroma, the Corben aroma, the Aragones aroma, etc.), and these aromas permeate the SIS amoeba when the SIS amoeba interacts with that region.  Each narration is a pseudopod extended by one player from the SIS amoeba in some direction, which also moves the center of mass of the whole organism in that same direction.  Moreover, if the psuedopod is extended into a new region of Story Space, the aroma of that region will permeate the SIS amoeba.  Even if later the pseudopod is pulled back out of that region, that aroma will still linger, for good or ill.

The overall aroma of the game, therefore, is the mixture of all the aromas that the SIS amoeba has come in contact with.  If a player or group of players are looking for a particular combination of different aromas, say a primary scent of Kirby, with a harsh overtone of Gaiman, and subtle hints of Ditko, achieving the combination can be very difficult, since it is so easy for one aroma to overpower all the others.

I chose aroma as the metaphor above carefully, because I think the sense of smell is very like our sense of what we find enjoyable in narrative.  Even a hint of an aroma you don't like can ruin the experience of a pleasant aroma.  The fresh clear aroma of a beach can be tainted by the faint aroma of rotting fish.  In the same way the very enjoyable sense you get from a Story Space region you like (for me, Jack Kirby) can be tainted by the even a hint of a Story Space region you don't like (for me, Richard Corben).

I would suggest that this conjecture and associated metaphor probably applies to all RPG's, but there are certain features of Capes that make it much more important, namely its super-hero subject matter (which already consists of lots of strong aromas that aren't easy to mix), the wide narrative authority it gives to every player, and the overtly competitive nature of the game play. 
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TonyLB
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« Reply #10 on: May 29, 2007, 07:18:39 AM »

The Extremes Conjecture: The most extreme narration of a particular type in a Capes games determines the boundaries of future narrations of that type, tend to drive narrations of that type overall towards that extreme.
I agree with this, with one caveat:  it's only about the implicit, unspoken boundaries.  The dynamic of these changes (perceptibly) when people become conscious of their ability to explicitly set boundaries using Conflicts.

As a for-instance, Sydney had lizard-people attacking the jungle village of my innocent young monkey-boy-hero.  He narrated one of the lizard people eviscerating one of the townsfolk ... which was well beyond the limit of grimness I wanted, at least for this character.  I responded by placing a conflict "Goal:  Gravely harm a human being."  Bang ... immediately that limit is imposed (by the "Not Yet" rule):  Sydney cannot cause any grave harm to a human being until the conflict is resolved.  The battle quickly shifted to a much more Kirby-esque, A-Team sort of feel.  People were flung aside by blows that (by any reasonable realism) should have snapped them like twigs, and instead landed against trees with a hearty "Ooof!" and no grave damage.

Does that distinction between the implicit boundaries (what boundaries people choose to respect, often without thinking about them) and the explicit boundaries (the ones that they have to respect, because of the rules) make sense?
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Hans
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« Reply #11 on: May 29, 2007, 12:19:40 PM »

Does that distinction between the implicit boundaries (what boundaries people choose to respect, often without thinking about them) and the explicit boundaries (the ones that they have to respect, because of the rules) make sense?

I understand the distinction between implicit and explicit boundaries, and I think it is an important one.  I think it matters in how people react to narrations.  But I don't think they relate to the phenomenon I have labeled the Extremes Conjecture. 

First another metaphor:
Picture a clearing in a forest, where you and the other players live.  The clearing is your SIS, and the forest is Story Space.  Each narration builds some new development (shed, log cabin, sheepfold, barn, whatever) within the clearing.  Sometimes a narration will chop out some more forest, adding it to the clearing.  This is an extreme narration.  You and the other players can build fences and say "no clearing beyond this fence".  Individual players may have particular sections of the forest they particularly like, and would hate to see chopped down.  There could be areas of forest that no one really cares about, or areas that everyone is anxious to clear cut to build a new school on.  But once the trees are chopped down and added to the available space, the deed is done.  By its very inviting emptiness a cleared space ATTRACTS development, and it takes willpower to leave it fallow and let the trees slowly grow back. 

Now some thoughts.

* When I say "extreme" I don't mean "extreme from a particular player's perspective".  I also don't think "extreme" = "objectionable" (although I realize that some of my earlier posts may have implied this, muddy language use on my part).  I really just mean extreme, as in objectively farther in some direction of Story Space than any previous narration.  In your example, Sydney's narration of evisceration was objectively extreme in that, I assume, no one had ever narrated that level of graphic violence in your game before.  If you previously had been running a brutal Mad-Maxian post-apocalyptic game full of gore and violence, and someone narrated a person being profoundly merciful and non-violent, that would also be an objectively extreme narration.

* Boundaries, on the other hand, are not objective.  They are arbitrary, in the sense that they are drawn with no real justification other than personal preference.  Explicit boundaries, such as the Comics Code, "Not Yet" limits based on conflicts, and even a general "hey guys, lets try to do a Kirby thing" type statement before the game starts are just as arbitrary as implicit boundaries; they differ only in that they are obvious to all players while implicit boundaries may be obvious only to one (or even no) player.  The fact that a particular narration is extreme is separate from the fact that a particular player finds a narration TOO extreme.

* The Extremes Conjecture states that because of Sydney's extreme narration, the tenor of the story HAS CHANGED.  A poor villager lies prostrate on the ground of the SIS, his/her entrails hanging out.  An SIS amoeba pseudopod has reached into the evisceration region of Story Space, and the hot metallic tang of blood now permeates it.  That stand of birch over by Sydney's barn has been chopped down and the ground lies open for further development.  Players may cheer at, sneer at, be disturbed by, or just ignore the fact, but some poor blighter just bought the farm in a gruesome way. 

* How players react to an extreme narration is independent of the truth or falsity of the Extremes Conjecture itself.  You might have thought it was just fine that Sydney upped the violence ante, in which case, one assumes you would have done nothing (or dived in with your own bloody narrations with gusto).  What the Extremes Conjecture says is that Sydney's narration HAS shifted the game towards a more violent region of Story Space, and that it is only through conscious effort (i.e. your playing a conflict) that it can be maintained in the less violent region from this point forward.

* Again, I think there is a similar phenomenon in ALL rpg's (on reflection I have seen it in operation in games as different as Mutants and Masterminds, Spirt of the Century, Donjon, and In a Wicked Age), but the particular innovations of Capes combined with the subject matter just make it MUCH more obvious, and, should it be driving a move into territory a player finds objectionable, more difficult to halt the movement.
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TonyLB
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« Reply #12 on: May 29, 2007, 05:24:56 PM »

* The Extremes Conjecture states that because of Sydney's extreme narration, the tenor of the story HAS CHANGED.
And what I'm saying is that no, it hasn't.  He doesn't get the change the story's tenor unilaterally.  He only gets to change it if I decide to let him.  If I don't like the way he's pushing, I can push back.  In fact, as I pointed out in the example, I can push back way, way harder.

We did not have innocents casually getting hurt after that.  Indeed, the guy who got eviscerated turned out to be okay.  It was just a flesh wound.

Now during the months we played afterwards, we had some bloodbaths (oh lordy, yes ... corridors running hip-deep with blood!  Woohoo!) but never of innocent bystanders.  Never.  Sydney went to a new place in the tenor of the game, I clearly communicated that I was opposed to that, we had us some conflict resolution and sorted out what tenor we were going to have.

If he'd cared then maybe we'd have kept fighting it over longer, and made it a central issue of the game, but he didn't, so we didn't.  We tried an extreme, and then backed away.  I think this runs counter to your Extremes Conjecture, but perhaps I'm misunderstanding you.
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Andrew Cooper
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« Reply #13 on: May 30, 2007, 04:58:22 AM »

Tony,

I think what Hans is saying Tony is that once Sydney narrated the event it can't be un-said in my mind.  It's there.  You can modify the narration later through your own narration.  You can keep it from happening again (at least on a temporary basis) through the mechanics.  None of that negates the fact that the story, even if only briefly, went to that violent place.  Thus there is now a precident set for going there again, at least in my mind.  If someone wanted to go there again it's easier to do because Sydney had already been there.

Now, I don't know how much I agree with Hans or not but I have seen this in action around the table.  The thing is that it is generally with players who are new to the game and aren't used to quite as much freedom in narration.  So, they start out kind of timid in introducing extremes in narration.  Then someone does a narration that goes beyond what anyone has doen up to that point.  Everyone else at the table thinks about that for a second and the next thing you know everyone narrates the same kind of thing, because that ground has been broken now.  Then someone will take things farther... and people follow there too.

I don't know if this would happen with a group of experienced Capes players.  I've never been able to play with a whole group (or even a majority) that had more than a couple of Capes games under their belts.  I'm generally the only one who has played more than a few times.

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Hans
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« Reply #14 on: May 30, 2007, 05:43:41 AM »

Andrew summarizes my thoughts on the matter very well, especially his first paragraph. 

However, there is a problem here in the way I phrased the conjecture, and then continued to speak of it.  It is the word "boundaries".  In one place I was using boundaries as "the limits of territory in Story Space that have been touched by the story so far", and in another place was using boundaries as "the limits that players set on what kinds of narrations they find acceptable and unacceptable".  I think this is what generated your initial response; you were reacting to the particular word I had chosen in one of those senses (limits of players) and I adopted your understanding of the word, forgetting that I was using the word in a different sense (area of story space that has been touched).  I will correct this by rewording in a more general fashion, and, I hope, incorporating your objections:

The Extremes Conjecture: Extreme narrations in any particular thematic direction in a Capes games will shift all future narration in that same thematic direction unless action is taken to counter the shift.

Given the above, here is the way I interpret your example:
* Sydney makes an extreme narration in the graphic violence thematic direction.
* Tony, either consciously or subconsciously recognizing he is facing a shift in direction of the story that he doesn't like, takes immediate and obvious action to counter the shift, by playing a very obvious conflict targeting that shift.
* Sydney, and all the other players, either consciously or subconsciously, get Tony's message, and the game proceeds with no perceptible change in tenor.

Based on this, I think the difference between, say, a four hour game at a convention with all new players and a long term game with experienced players is that experienced players understand the ways in which they can act to counter a shift in the tenor of the game, while the new players do not.  The new players may feel helpless in the face of an extreme narration, while an experience player can figure out clever ways to counter it.  Which is pretty much what Tony was saying in the first place.

That being said, I still think that the problem of the fact of the narration is a big deal.  In your case, Tony, that one eviscerated village was something that you and the other players at the table could conveniently ignore, narrate around, or counteract ("just a flesh wound") without monkeying too much with the coherence of the narrative (i.e. events make sense in some kind of order with each other).  But what if Sydney had narrated the entire village being napalmed?  You could still have done the same thing you did, but the fact of an entire village of horribly burned people is a lot harder to ignore or narrate around.

I think this is also where we come back to sillyness.  Lets say the extreme narration was, instead of a graphic evisceration, narration that all the Lizard People are purple and pray to their great god Barney for success.  Where do you take this, if you feel this takes the story in a direction you don't like?  What kind of conflict do you play that prevents future Barney references with regards to Lizard People?  How do you incorporate this new Barney as Lizard People god fact into your future narrations in such a way that maintains the previous tenor of the story you were hoping for?
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