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Author Topic: [Capes] The Problem of Evil  (Read 16586 times)
TonyLB
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« on: July 14, 2004, 04:44:34 PM »

For those who are interested, I've put up an Example of Play for Capes.

Capes is a superhero game with the Premise "Power is Fun, but do you deserve it"?  It has a system of Debts and Drives:  Players can boost their power temporarily by taking on Debt in various moral arenas (Justice or Duty, for instance).  They if prove their worth in tasks concerning those endeavours, later in the game, it works off that debt.

Tobias pointed out in a previous thread that this leaves wide open the question "Where do supervillains fit?"

I think this is tightly intertwined with a question that has been preying on my mind:  What if people just decide not to pay back their Debt?

Many supervillains don't care at all for principles like Justice.  Some actively oppose them.  Yes, I know there are exceptions... getting to them later.

It seems to me that if a player actively avoids paying back their Debt in one or another moral arena, it is because they, too, don't really care about that aspect of the game.

Does this make their character a villain?  An interesting moral question... much more interesting than any single answer I could give.  I would like to build a way into my system to actually address that question.  How far do you stray from accepted principles before heroism becomes something else, and what does it become?  It is, in a very real sense, the necessary flip-side to the question "Are you worthy of power?"... "And what if you aren't?"

I'm thinking that players should be given an option, when their debt in a drive soars high enough, to trade in that drive for... something else.  A new, subtly different, probably more selfish drive in that same slot.

Maybe a hero who shows no interest in Love replaces it with a need for Respect.  And if he doesn't at least tread water in that Drive he eventually slides into something explicitly villainous (Power, for instance, as a mode of interacting with those close to him).

The result of this that I like is that you can have half-heroes, those who are strongly heroic in some Drives but selfish (or even villainous) in others.  And you can have half-villains... folks who use abominable methods in the pursuit of noble goals, or who pursue horrendous agendas with honor and decorum.

But if I like the results, I worry terribly about the process.  This could be really, really annoying if the Drives that replace the standards are boring.  They should still be as much fun as the Drives they replace.  Indeed, given that they only come up when those Drives have proven not to be fun for an individual player, they should presumably be more fun.

And I'm totally unsure how to handle the transition from one to the other.  I have a trained aversion to letting "raw numbers" rule such choices.  But, again, these Debt numbers are something that the player only takes on somewhat voluntarily:  even if they end up in a high level of Debt because of a lost Stake, there are ways and ways in which that is voluntary.  So I could be convinced (against my instincts) that just saying "If you exceed five, or three times your Drive in Debt, whichever is higher, you swing to an alternate Drive".  Do you think a straight numeric solution will be satisfying?

And should villains use roughly the same rules, just with different Drives?  Or should they work on a subtly different system?  I can totally see them working not with debt but with credit:  they have to do some evil things first, and then save those tokens up to use powers later.
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JohnG
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« Reply #1 on: July 14, 2004, 04:57:56 PM »

I like the idea that the more debt a hero has the weaker he gets morally.  Kind of like ethical kryptonite?  A hero with less and less justice starts killing thieves instead of dragging them to the cops because he thinks its justified with his new warped perspective.

In other words the more debt they accumulate the more burned out on being a paragon of morality they are, and the more shortcuts they take.  That way the penalty builds up in character slowly and the character who thinks he's still a hero finds himself on wanted posters at the post office.

For villains I would suggest a different set, instead of something like charity you could have greed for example.  That way the more debt they have the more it dawns on them that what they're doing is wrong and they start to feel guilty.

That's this man's opinion, hope it's helpful.
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John Grigas
Head Trip Games
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inky
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« Reply #2 on: July 14, 2004, 07:35:38 PM »

Quote from: StrongBadMun
I like the idea that the more debt a hero has the weaker he gets morally.  Kind of like ethical kryptonite?  A hero with less and less justice starts killing thieves instead of dragging them to the cops because he thinks its justified with his new warped perspective.


But wait, in this system, the ways you accumulate debt are either by taking the debt voluntarily in combat, or by losing a bet on the drive. In the former case your actions have nothing to do with the drive you took debt in, and in the latter, ok, you failed in the cause of Justice, but that doesn't mean you're necessarily going to turn into the Punisher; it probably just means you're going to feel guilty and resolve to do better next time.

For that matter, I'm not sure that the whole debt system applies to guys like the Punisher anyway. For "Power is great, but do you deserve it?" it makes perfect sense to have the characters have to do heroic things to make up for throwing the powers around. But the Punisher's premise is presumably more like "Can you adopt the methods of the enemy without becoming the enemy?" That suggests to me something more like, I dunno, that the Punisher can remove his debts by going out and being an anti-hero, but that the enemies get one miracle point for their overall plan for every point of debt he gets rid of.

For villains, right, they just have Arrogance and Sadism and so on, and get dice for strapping heroes to conveyor belts or sticking them in giant hourglasses or telling them their plans (hrm, unless those would be handled better as tropes -- I guess it depends if this is fundamental to the villain or just a one-time move).
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Dan Shiovitz
Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #3 on: July 14, 2004, 07:37:32 PM »

Quote from: TonyLB
For those who are interested, I've put up an Example of Play for Capes.


Oooh. Neat. It's too late for me to piece together how all the mechanics are pumping (will have to re-read), but I love the flavor of it.

Quote from: TonyLB
What if people just decide not to pay back their Debt?....should villains use roughly the same rules, just with different Drives?  Or should they work on a subtly different system?  I can totally see them working not with debt but with credit:  they have to do some evil things first, and then save those tokens up to use powers later.


This is a very simple, very cool idea. It makes villainy not only the thematic opposite of heroism but also the mechanical opposite. And there's no reason why a hero in dire straits (or just in a bad mood) can't get evil credit and use it for their powers, is there? I'd imagine this as doing something nastily expedient to get an advantage: "Doctor Bad Guy is getting away? Hmm, I'm kinda deep into debt now... Okay, I throw the Heromobile into overdrive and zoom straight through the crowd of pedestrians after him... That's four credit dice for me! And, um, some blood on the windshield. Oops."
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JohnG
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« Reply #4 on: July 14, 2004, 08:53:27 PM »

I dunno, why even have debt.  Why not just make the cost of using them be losing them like Force Point in Star Wars D20.  And then to get more you have to advance or do something really heroic or whatever.  That way characters will save them for more desperate situations.
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John Grigas
Head Trip Games
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Current Projects: Ember, Chronicles of the Enferi Wars
TonyLB
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« Reply #5 on: July 14, 2004, 08:55:46 PM »

Quote from: inky
That suggests to me something more like, I dunno, that the Punisher can remove his debts by going out and being an anti-hero, but that the enemies get one miracle point for their overall plan for every point of debt he gets rid of.

There is something oh so enticing to me about the possibility of a hero's actions earning Victory Points for the villainous side (or vice versa).

I haven't figured out what to do with that, but when I do I will definitely credit you again.  That's a really nifty notion that I will really have to adopt.  There are emergent behaviors to the combination of that with the current system.  I can half see them.  Need to sleep on it, maybe for many days.  But I'll thank you now, because I have a strong feeling I'm going to like the results.
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TonyLB
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« Reply #6 on: July 14, 2004, 09:36:49 PM »

Inky, Sydney:  You are both touching on a really useful question:  Are villains and anti-heroes outside of the Premise of the game?  In short, should their actions address that Premise, or is there a separate Premise they address?

My initial thought is that they're important characters, they should address the Premise as stated.  I may well be wrong about that, but I'll run with it for a little bit and see whether it leads me anywhere.

So let's say that you've got an arch-villain.  His stated goal is to kill everyone on the planet.  He gloats, he cackles, he does all the basic villain stuff.  In short, he enjoys his power.  Halfway to my Premise already.

The question remains how he's meaningfully addressing the question of whether he deserves the power.  What would he, a cackling supervillain, need or want to do in order to prove his worth?  And to whom does he prove it?

The second question is the easy one, for me:  This is the same issue as the Outsiders in My Life with Master.  The evil Master must have some people outside of himself whose opinion he values and whose approval he courts.  In comic books this is, almost without exception, the hero.  The villain wants the hero to recognize his motives as valid.

But what Drives do they actually try to prove themself in?  I think that the villainous Drives can be seen as different interpretations of elements of the heroic Drives.  The villains actually think they've got it all figured out, and that if the heroes just understood what they understand, they'd agree.

What sort of twisted drive could justify mass extermination?  Plenty:  Justice:  "The world is full of sin, it needs to be cleansed."  Truth:  "Notions like love and charity are just a gloss over the yawning abyss that is reality... people are better off dead."  Love:  "If I cannot be reunited with my lost love then it is intolerable for the world to continue at all... Such is the strength of my love!"

Yes, if they understood what the cackling supervillain understood, the heroes would see that it's reasonable to kill everyone on earth.  

Okay, I think I'm on a roll here.  Bear with me a moment longer.

What are villains (and heroes) doing when they Stake their Debt on an outcome?  They are trying to prove a point.  They are trying to marshall evidence that the world is the way they see it, not the way their opponent sees it.  The goal is to reaffirm their own faith and shake the misplaced confidence of their wrong-headed enemies.

Say you've got a villain who says "Love fosters weakness".  And he's paired up against a hero who argues "Love creates strength".  How do you decide the issue?  Well, if you're the villain you kidnap the heroes love interest and dangle her off a bridge in the most challenging, unfair hostage situation you can devise.  After all, if love really creates strength then he should be able to save her, right?  But you don't expect that... you're the villain.  You figure he'll fail, and then he'll better understand the truth that Love is just another weakness.

My thinking, having written this up, is that villains should have Debt just like heroes do, and should gamble it just as heroes do.  And, indeed, that they should often gamble it against the heroes directly.  

"Professor Muerte Stakes Despair.  Captain Courage Stakes Hope.  Who will be victorious?"
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John Harper
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« Reply #7 on: July 15, 2004, 09:35:34 AM »

You're really on to something here, Tony. I love it.

An observation: In the comics, a good supervillain is written to be the perfect foil for a particular hero. Superman, the paragon of might, is thwarted by Lex Luthor, the paragon of cunning. Superman wants Peace -- Lex wants Power. Superman wants people to be free -- Lex wants people to serve his will.

Maybe the GM creates characters during the set-up session while the players are making heroes. The GM creates a nemesis for each hero, based on a contrary moral principle. Or better yet, the players create the supervillains that they want to do battle with.

Similar to Spiritual Attributes in TROS, the various Drives could serve as a blueprint for conflicts during the game series. Does your hero really care about Family? Bam! You just created a villain whose goal is to show that Family is nothing compared to Duty.

Quote
"Professor Muerte Stakes Despair. Captain Courage Stakes Hope. Who will be victorious?"

This gives me goosebumps. This is what a superhero game should be about. I am so excited to see where this game is going.
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Shreyas Sampat
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« Reply #8 on: July 15, 2004, 02:28:18 PM »

Following up on John's post, I find myself thinking that it might be illuminating and useful to write up a hero as two poles : The hero in the perfection of his virtue, and the fallen hero in the nadir of his vices. Then you can have characters that slide up and down along this continuum.
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #9 on: July 15, 2004, 06:14:05 PM »

This is all cool -- but, darn it, I still like the idea of "villainy credit." Suggestion: There's no reason that both heroes and villains can't both go into Heroic Debt and get Villainous Credit. It depends on whether they're endangering themselves in order to prove a point (debt) or endangering others for their own advantage (credit).

When you put yourself on the line for something you believe in, you get power by going into Debt -- in other words, just as you make yourself vulnerable in the story, you make yourself vulnerable in the mechanics. This can be (as put very nicely above) Spiderman rescuing Mary Jane and going into Debt on Love because "love makes you stronger," or it can be the villain going out of his way to kidnap the girl and draw the good guy to him, going into Debt on Love to prove "love makes you weaker." (Note that the villain in these scenes is not usually just using the love interest as a hostage; he's trying to prove a point). Otto Octavious maniacally rebuilding his fusion generator (yes, I just saw that movie) is another example of a bad guy going into Debt -- he's throwing himself body and soul into something he believes in, however twisted.

Conversely, when you stay safe yourself but endanger others in order to gain temporary advantage, you earn Credit you can parley into power -- in other words, just as you're refusing to put yourself at risk in the story, you're not risking yourself (going into debt) in the mechanics, either. This is truly despicable villainy, of the "endanger bystanders just to distract the hero" kind -- but it's also the hero in desperation doing something expedient, like opening fire when the hostages aren't clear or conducting a high-speed car chase through crowded streets.

What I like about this idea is that it allows villains to make themselves vulnerable in sympathetic ways (going into debt on drives) while tempting heroes to earn Credit through nasty expediencies.
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TonyLB
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« Reply #10 on: July 15, 2004, 08:35:20 PM »

Quote from: John Harper
Or better yet, the players create the supervillains that they want to do battle with.

Blink, blink....

Of course they should.

Of.  Course.  They.  Should.

I don't know how to get across in text how much I'm shaking my head in chagrin that I could have overlooked the obvious necessity of this.

Shreyas:  I agree that it's essential for people to have some hands-on consideration of the system... to be able to think immediately "This is a way my hero could slide".

Sydney:  I agree that there should be a game-system temptation toward the dark-side.  The fact that a moral slide is easy is what makes it heroic when you stay the course... and even more heroic when you slide and then claw your way back to more deeply considered virtue.

So I've got a whole new page dedicated to just this issue.  I'm not sure exactly where (or whether) to integrate it into the rules yet.  But the system I've drafted to handle it is way too complex to describe entirely in a post.

Here's the executive summary:
    [*]Any time they're about to take Debt, a player may choose to change one of their Drives for something less clearly heroic.  Doing this takes their existing Debt off the table, so it no longer penalizes them.  There's the temptation that Sydney points out the value of.[*]There are five villainous Drives.  They are opposite in world-view to the five heroic Drives (though they are not, strictly speaking, opposite in the actions they imply).[*]There are ten "conflicted" Drives (need a better word for that).[*]For any two Heroic or Villainous Drives, there is an unique conflicted Drive that they can both transition to.  So any heroic drive can transition to any of four possible conflicted drives.[*]You shift from Heroic to Conflicted to (if you so desire) Villainous.  The possible ways in which people can shift are made myriad by the topological complexity of the conflicted layer.[*]People get a chance to sample this terrain because it's the same system that they use to sketch in the backstory and motivations of villains that they create in collaboration with other players.  You start with someone who has the potential to be a hero, and then see how they slid into villainy.  That will (hopefully) foster an understanding of how people can slide, which will help the players deal with their own heroes conflicts, as Shreyas points out.[/list:u]
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    Tobias
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    « Reply #11 on: July 16, 2004, 12:51:21 AM »

    Quote from: TonyLB
    The question remains how he's meaningfully addressing the question of whether he deserves the power.  What would he, a cackling supervillain, need or want to do in order to prove his worth?  And to whom does he prove it?

    The second question is the easy one, for me:  This is the same issue as the Outsiders in My Life with Master.  The evil Master must have some people outside of himself whose opinion he values and whose approval he courts.  In comic books this is, almost without exception, the hero.  The villain wants the hero to recognize his motives as valid.


    You ARE aware you've just given THE explenation of why supervillains always have to explain everything to the hero, right? (Other than the audience also getting it).

    This is very good stuff (at least, I think)!
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    Tobias op den Brouw

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    Sydney Freedberg
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    « Reply #12 on: July 16, 2004, 08:41:48 AM »

    Loved your example of villain creation. The mechanics of the Heroic-Conflicted-Villainous drives strike me -- like the rest of the system -- as really cool in their complex interplay, but potentially over-complicated. But then that's what playtesting is for: to strip stuff down.

    (N.B.: You're in Alexandria. I'm in D.C. If you ever need playtesters, and I can get a babysitter, I hereby volunteer myself for your hideous experiments).
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    John Harper
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    « Reply #13 on: July 16, 2004, 09:31:07 AM »

    From the new villain creation text:
    Quote
    To craft a new villain together, the group starts off with a set of the Heroic drives.  Then, in turn, going around the table they describe some event in the villains unfolding history, and transition a Drive further toward villainy.


    Dude.

    Dude. You are rocking my world. This is friggin' amazing. I've been toying with group villain creation for Danger Patrol but this nails it.

    There's gonna be some Capes playtesting 'round these parts.
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    Stephen
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    « Reply #14 on: July 16, 2004, 09:51:34 AM »

    Purely to play devil's advocate:  Why do supervillains have to "fit" at all?  If the point of the game is to play heroes, then once a hero slips down into whatever your Villainy demarcation point is (the equivalent of Humanity-0 for Sorcerer), why not just consider the hero "lost", take it over as an Editor character, and simply ignore that part of the rules?

    Given that this game seems to reproduce the "nobody ever dies" feel of the comics, this gives players something to lose (your character can't die, but he can fall into a moral abyss), and ups their investment in the game.
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    Even Gollum may yet have something to do. -- Gandalf
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