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Evolution of Character In Capes

Started by TheThingInTheMirror, July 03, 2008, 04:41:52 AM

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There is an experience system in capes, as people resolve conflicts and aquire inspiraions and story tokens. But a number of people have expresssed skepticism about the worthiness of capes, or expressed a preference for some other game system besides Capes, owing to the lack of a system for expressing character evolution.

In other words, the player is getting better and better (more story tokens etc) but the character is not... (IE his combat skills, technical know-how, detective savvy or archery competency is not improving)

I might almost accuse them of being dense but... the game is still a roleplaying game and self improvement and growth is a popular theme for a story most particularly in the superhero genre. I've pretty much decided to try to give the audience what they want while trying to keep in the concept of capes, rather than switch off to some other superhero rpg. (There are a number of reasons why I think capes makes for a dramatically better superhero rpg but I won't go into it here)

Has anyone had an idea for a character evolution system (ie an experience system) beyond inpsires and story tokens?
-Ron H
-The Thing In The Mirror
-(Absolutely not related to The Thing In The Closet.)


It rather begs the question of "what would they improve?"

The numbers in front of their traits? To what end? Bringing them into play more often versus other traits would just mean you had more dice rolling in reaction more often rather than some greater power. Increasing Debt Pool sizes might allow more run-room before you have to start burning it for effect, but most Players, once they begin understanding the deeper strategies in the game, realize that's not really more power. So, really, twiddling the numbers on the sheet doesn't look like it'd have any real reflection of character development in a mechanistic way, anyway.

Pointedly, though, they miss the obvious mechanism for character mechanistic power-change in-game, and that is Inspirations. Inspirations explicitly define things the character's done to improve himself (and definitely "improve," at least insofar as you only get them for winning Conflicts). If they want to chart a course of character development, have them begin more explicitly keeping track of their Inspirations and more thoughtfully introducing Scenes where they can use Inspirations to roll over into new Scene Conflicts which look -- well -- developmental. If they're not introducing Scenes in which their characters can develop through Conflicts, well, it's no wonder they don't see any. The very first, archetypical Scene example in the book hinges around a non-combat Scene where the characters come into personal conflict and can work the Inspirations there-following into future Scenes between them.

Is it permenant change? Absolutely not, but very little character development in comics occurs permenantly, either. If someone wants a character to change in more fundamental ways, they have two interesting choices, as I see it:

  • New Character Sheet: Nothing keeps you from having two, three, or thirty character sheets for the same character, all with different traits on it. Maybe the old one represents a previous iteration of power, or is one focussed entirely differently. You end up paying for this kind of development, since, sure, you can have both sheets in front of you at once, but you pay for it with a Story Token ... if no one else brings out the other first! Whether or not the sheets share Debt is undefined, notably.
  • NPC: Nothing says your character's next evolution of power is required to be a full character, either. An NPC sheet can be useful for just adding on to the environment with "Powerman's Second Stage Anima Flare" which has two columns of unPowered traits you can call up. No question of Debt, but again, costs a Token to bring in if you already have Powerman and someone else could still pull it first.

Me, I like the fact that your boosted power reserves can be jacked by another Player and used to help win Conflicts for them, but I also like the fact that Capes is a competitive game that way a lot of the time.

Ultimately, the only resource brought to use in the game with any kind of in-game representation, and by extension, the only ones that can really represent progress are Inspirations. At one point I was thinking about how to integrate With Great Power-like story arcs in a mechanistic way into Capes, and I blogged about it(, but I never got back 'round to exploring the idea.

Ironically, I have to mention that "self improvement and growth" almost never happens in superhero genre stories. Origin stories set the form of characters' powers and environment pretty tightly, further stories give them much the same set except as odd one-offs (easily modelled as weird narrations that use loose Traits effectively and in new ways), and they only see major switches with large, critical events, Radiation Accidents, Reborn, Hired by Galactus -- which is a fine time to introduce an entirely new sheet.

When you can introduce a new sheet for any reason or no reason at all, the idea of mechanical character progression goes out the window. And good riddance.
Blogger, game analyst, autonomous agent architecture engineer.
Capes: This Present Darkness, Dragonstaff


Quote from: TheThingInTheMirror on July 03, 2008, 04:41:52 AMHas anyone had an idea for a character evolution system (ie an experience system) beyond inpsires and story tokens?
In a game I played, my character Zak went from being "Spunky Kid/Animal Avatar" to being "Crusader/Animal Avatar" after he got some of the innocence and obedience knocked out of him.  I thought that was pretty cool.  I think that, if he dropped some of his "Monkey-boy" motif he might have evolved further into "Crusader/Martial Artist."

That type of evolution isn't going to satisfy people who want their character to become something measurably more than it was, but I think it's cool for people who want their character to become something measurably different.
Just published: Capes
New Project:  Misery Bubblegum


Quote from: TheThingInTheMirror on July 03, 2008, 04:41:52 AMHas anyone had an idea for a character evolution system (ie an experience system) beyond inpsires and story tokens?

In a system that's not interested in how objectively skilled, powerful etc a character is, where literally Galactus has no more narrative power than Squirrel Girl, an experience point system is really missing the point. Experience systems really don't fit that. If you want a character to grow and change over time, you can rework his sheet by swapping traits around, reducing a value here relative to another (which goes up as a consequence) or swapping out old traits for new ones. Indiana Jones has no more narrative power in the third movie than he had in the first, though he's been though all sorts of stuff in the intervening time. Likewise, Darth Vader at the end of his life had no more narrative power than he did when he was a snot-nosed kid riding a podracer. He had a whole array of life experiences, was a masterful lightsaber duelist etc... but his narrative power was unchanged - he's still one of the principal characters of the story. Young Anakin (badly written as he was) just had a totally different set of traits with which to influence the story.

A number of stgrategies to reflect changing characters, power boosts etc have already been pointed out so there's no need for me to answer that, but I wanted to get the core concept clarified a bit: the conceptual whys and wherefores..

Experience systems exist in a conceptual space that is pretty much totally unrelated to how conflicts are resolved in capes, so one would be not only irrelevant but counter to what Capes is about.


Capes character stats do not reflect ability, only how influential a trait is on the game.  A character with figure out critical weakness at 1 might well be played as a bigger genius than one with find critical weakness at 5.  I find that the numbers mean more about how frequently the ability pops up and has an effect on the outcomes of goals and events.  With this said, a player can easily show a character's advancement by narrating the character doing thing better.