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Author Topic: [Capes] Losing Control  (Read 5569 times)
TonyLB
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« on: November 11, 2004, 08:48:29 AM »

So I've had the pleasure of playing in two Capes playtests in two days.  The first (hereafter "Chambarra Capes") was on IRC with Doug (hi Doug!)   The second (hereafter "Ensemble Capes") was face to face with Eric (a Capes veteran) and Jen (a veteran roleplayer, but new to Capes).

I'm ever so tempted to dump a laundry list of the things that I saw happening in the game (from the addictive fun of expanding social networks during character creation to the intriguing dynamics of players handing characters back and forth between scenes), but the thing that struck me most strongly about both sessions is this:  They went completely out of the control of any single player at the table.

I mean that in a very, very good way.

I went into both sessions with the rough outline of a plan in mind.  Other players went in with the rough outline of a plan in their minds.  I don't think any of our plans lasted more than about five minutes before they started fraying at the edges, and getting recombined with each other.

In Chambarra, young martial artist Lee and disguised-dispossessed Prince Yueh were under the care of venerable Master Wei.  I wanted mooks to come and try to take Yueh's Jade Necklace for some mystical villain somewhere.  Doug wanted Yueh to be hidden and Lee to end up fighting the mooks for the good of the village.  What ended up happening was that Lee got captured and Master Wei (at first played by me, but later played by Doug) ended up being the protagonist.  

We're not quite sure how that happened, but in retrospect it feels inevitable.  It becomes clear that the shadowy magician must have been an old rival of Wei's, and that his past is coming back to haunt him.  Will Wei be debilitated, forcing Lee to take up the mantle of this vendetta?  That's my plan, but my last plan involved a Jade Necklace that never even ended up being introduced into the story, so it's a matter of luck and communal preferences whether this second plan has any more impact than the first.

In Ensemble Capes Freya (seductive warrior-goddess) and Volcanus (cluelessly virtuous man-mountain) faced off against Man-Shark in the museum of natural history.  My original thought was that he was a lackey sent to steal a new synthetic material on display.  Never even got that far.  Eric introduced a polynesian necklace that glowed ominously when Volcanus (with all his volcano/pacific-rim origins) came near, and obviously that had to be what Man-Shark was after.  And then even that got derailed as the bumpy romantic relationship between Freya and Volcanus took front and center.

About half-way through I said "This'll be cool... I'm sure Eric has a plan for that necklace."  Eric looked at me in utter horror and said (in tones of voice I have used myself on many occasions) "Plan?  I don't have a plan!  Why should I know what the heck is going on with the necklace?  I'll leave that for someone else to figure out."

It must also be pointed out that the other players in Ensemble Capes kicked my butt on earning Story Tokens.  They were much better than I was at providing good conflicts with insight into other characters (my own included).  They're totally running the story now, until I can get my bearings and figure out how to play to them and get some Story Tokens of my own.  Cool.
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TonyLB
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« Reply #1 on: November 11, 2004, 10:04:54 AM »

P.S.:  Okay, fair's fair... that wasn't what Eric actually said.  It's not his style.  I don't remember his exact words.  That's the general meaning of them, paraphrased heavily (I do not doubt) by me.
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #2 on: November 11, 2004, 10:08:48 AM »

Just to be sure:

You're now playtesting how this runs without any one person serving as "the GM"? I.e. everyone has a hero PC, no one has special authority, and the story (background, plot, NPCs, etc.) is made up as you go along in pure "no myth" fashion?
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Vaxalon
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« Reply #3 on: November 11, 2004, 10:26:11 AM »

Dammit.  Invite me to this!
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"In our game the other night, Joshua's character came in as an improvised thing, but he was crap so he only contributed a d4!"
                                     --Vincent Baker
Doug Ruff
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« Reply #4 on: November 11, 2004, 02:47:44 PM »

Well, I had the pleasure of playing the Chambarra Capes session with Tony, and it was a heck of a lot of Fun. As it was also my first game of Capes, my first time using IRC, and my first time playing an overtly "Story comes first" game, I feel very fortunate indeed.

So, why did it go so well? Here's my take on it, I will be very interested in seeing if this matches with Tony's experience, as we didn't have time to discuss this after the session because of Real Life demands.

Firstly, Tony's Click-and-Lock method of character generation has come on a long way. I'm mentioning this first as it was a factor before we even logged on to play. Tony had sent me some new templates to use, and the Templates for "Martial Artist" and "Simple Soul" leaped out at me and screamed "kung fu!"

10 minutes later, Lee Chan was born. It would have been 3 minutes, but I dithered over which three abilities to drop.

Secondly, Tony was good enough to pick up my idea for a kung fu based campaign and run with it. As I had previously asked him for a "Spandex campaign", and didn't hit him with my new idea until we were in the IRC channel, I've got to salute him for this. Again, the speed with which Capes allows you to generate new characters (heroes, opponents, allies, bystanders) helped.

Thirdly, and most significantly, we were both committed to creating a good story. This means that we were both open to suggestions, were comfortable with shifting the spotlight, swapping characters, changing the plot, and by the end we were narrating actions for each other's characters during our own turns.

I don't know if this would be a surprise to Tony, but I didn't see this as being GM-less play. I always considered Tony to be the GM, but he was a good GM who was willing to listen to and adapt to his player. There was no need for him to put his foot down and say "I'm the GM, do it my way".

As far as the plans "fraying", I think this was largely down to our willingness to drop our plans if a better opportunity came along. Again, the system supports this, because almost anything is "fair game" for inclusion in the narration, or as an Event or Goal.

Like Tony, I also have a "laundry list" of stuff to say about the session, but I want to save this for a separate post, and leave this post as a celebration of the Fun we had playing Capes.
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TonyLB
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« Reply #5 on: November 11, 2004, 08:22:04 PM »

Doug, thank you for the kind words.

Sydney:  Yes, I am playtesting with all participants being equal in the eyes of the rules.  My experience with the two sessions matches Doug's assessment.  I was playing the GM role in Chambarra.  I wasn't in Ensemble.  I tried to play the GM role in both games, but only succeeded in one.

I understood what Doug was aiming for, and I did a passable job of supporting it.  That let me work the rules in ways that gave me more influence over the story, claiming the GM-role both through consensus with Doug and through the game mechanic.

In Ensemble I never quite made that connection, for whatever reason.  Eric and Jen did a better job of supporting each others stories (and mine) than I did of supporting them.  So they are sharing the GM role between them.  I don't have the resources (yet!) to really jump in and dominate the story.  I need to go along for the ride for a while, and see whether I can get my mind around what they're looking for and how I can provide it.  

I still have ambitions of becoming at least first-among-equals in the GM department, the same way a player in a throne-war scenario needs to have ambitions of being crowned king.  But it's only going to happen if I get my act together and figure out how to become their preferred provider of fun.
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Doug Ruff
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« Reply #6 on: November 11, 2004, 11:45:12 PM »

Tony, you earned them. But enough backslapping:

One of the traditional roles of the GM - as provider of story - isn't essential in Capes. It may be needed if the players are having a problem coming up with their own stories, but that's it.

Tony was still the GM in our game, because he was the final authority in calling the rules of the game (after all, he did write them...) I'd also expect him to have final say in setting the Scenes. If Tony had said "no kung fu", I would have respected that (but I'm real glad he didn't.)

So "first-among-equals" is still possible - which means that te GM gets to play as well, and not just as an NPC. It also means that the GM "hat" can be passed on, or shared, or whatever. As long as everyone knows who has the Final Say at any point in the game.
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TonyLB
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« Reply #7 on: November 12, 2004, 05:17:38 AM »

Some of the final revisions going into the rules (minor, thank God!) talk about exactly that issue of Final authority, and how to make it very explicit who has it at any one time.  For instance, it will have the opportunity to set the scene (if people want) go in turns.

In some groups this might be about preventing arguments among people whose instinct is to take control.  In the groups I've played with it's about empowerment among people whose instinct is to defer to others.

Without rules people say "Well, yeah, theoretically I could go out and define a scene, but so could anyone else, so I should give other people a chance"

With clear rules they say "Okay, everyone gets a turn and this is my turn!  Now what will I do with it?  So many choices...."
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Eric Sedlacek
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TheCzech


« Reply #8 on: November 15, 2004, 12:22:55 PM »

Quote from: TonyLB
P.S.:  Okay, fair's fair... that wasn't what Eric actually said.  It's not his style.  I don't remember his exact words.  That's the general meaning of them, paraphrased heavily (I do not doubt) by me.


A fair paraphrase of what I said, I would say.  I did not, and do not, have a plan.  I figure there is no reason to bother making one since it might not end up being under my control anyway.  If it is, I will come up with something.

Another thing I would note is that the elimination of the GM sparked a certain competitiveness that was not there before.  I don't know that this is inevitable in general, but it probably was with the personalities involved in this case.  The cool thing is that as long as the game remains friendly and the level of competition stays reasonable, this can be a source of creativity instead of a problem.

It is in the very nature of Capes that you cannot win all the time.  In fact, you could say that you win by losing effectively.  A lot of times, the biggest problem with playing in a group of "Type A" roleplayers is that everyone gets very jealous of their screen time.  In this system, you gain power by ceding screen time to someone else.  It is a very powerful mechanic the likes of which I have never seen before.  The elimination of the "GM" really does cement the dynamic.
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TonyLB
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« Reply #9 on: November 18, 2004, 07:57:24 AM »

Played session two (of three) of Ensemble Capes last night.  Hooboy!

So we had Freya (seductive warrior goddess) and Volcanus (stone-faced mountain man) and the strange throbbing necklace they had discovered just lying out in the museum of natural history.

Between sessions I emailed Eric suggesting (in an off-hand sort of way) that he might want to write up the Necklace as a character, with the throbbing and the strange magical effects and all that.  He went, to put it mildly, nuts over the idea and showed up with a carefully constructed and balanced write-up of a general Monkey's Paw sort of artifact.  And, of course, insisted on playing it as well as his own character.  Hey, he's got the story tokens for it, nobody's going to stand in his way.

So the first scene starts out with Freya, Volcanus and the team's resident supporting bookworm (played by Jen) examining the necklace.  I brought in Jenny Swift, my charming little young speedster.

Emotion Run-down:  Freya loves Volcanus.  Volcanus doesn't have a clue.  Volcanus loves (increasingly) the necklace.  Freya wants to impress him with her helpfulness, but also is uneasy about the covetous gleam in his eyes.  Jenny idolizes Freya, and wants to monopolize her time.  Jenny therefore dislikes Volcanus as an obstacle to that ambition.

Things got particularly fun when I added the "Event:  Someone claims the Necklace for their own".  Eric said later (paraphrased) "I didn't go in with the plan that Volcanus would become possessed by a spirit in the necklace... but once it became clear that both the necklace and he were rolling on the same side to get him to pick it up, it was obvious what was happening."

Best I can remember the sides it went like this:
    [*]Freya and Jenny were allied against Volcanus and the necklace in wanting Volcanus to step away from the necklace ("Event: Someone claims necklace"), Freya because she was concerned, Jenny because it would also mean he stepped further away from Freya.
    [*]Freya occasionally thwarted Jenny in her "Freya Likes me Best" Goal, just because Jennifer (Freya's player) didn't think I deserved it.  Which was true.
    [*]Everybody ramped up the same side of "Revelations".  Nobody wanted to have to go another couple scenes with just mysterious hints.
    [*]I ramped up "Side effect of Necklace is revealed", on selfishly strategic principles... nobody was paying it much attention so I swooped in, got a good roll, described a bunch of lost souls tormented forever ("Ouch!  Ectoplasm!  Hot flaming Ectoplasm!  Gotta go wash my hands!") and claimed a pretty good Inspiration for later use.[/list:u][/color]I got to resolve the "Revelation" Conflict, so I decided and described that the necklace was the lost heart of a Hawaiian God, a useful tool for the summoning of a gigantic stone guardian entrusted with the destruction of the God's enemies.  Somewhere along the line we made up the name "Wanatiki", though it was unclear whether this was the God or the guardian.  We'll figure that out later.

    (Aside:  Jen says "We could use Pelle, or some real Hawaiian figure", Me:  "Yeah, but then we'd end up being inaccurate by accident... let's just be wildly inaccurate on purpose!")

    Right then, Eric resolved the "Someone claims the Necklace" and all hell broke loose.  Now Volcanus is wearing the necklace, and his eyes are blank and filled with flames.  "You cannot interfere with the will of Wanatiki!" he thunders in a supernaturally enhanced voice.  Uh-oh....

    Things then descended (ascended?) into a super-powered slug-fest, with Volcanus and the Necklace on one side and everybody else on the other.  Except, of course, that Jenny was still trying to prove that Freya liked her best.  So I narrated a bit where the possessed Volcanus was about to squash her, and Freya had to choose between them, which got a pretty hefty groan from Jennifer (Freya's player).  That was fun.

    Volcanus/Wanatiki escaped, leaving us to pick up the pieces and prepare to follow.

    Lots of Story Tokens in that scene, almost all going to Jen.  I got one well-deserved one for having introduced "Someone claims the Necklace", but otherwise I mostly went farming for Inspirations, and ended up very well stocked.  But nobody was as well stocked in Inspirations as Eric was.  He'd spent all of his debt and most of his Story Tokens winning things, so he had a ton of Inspirations.  I think these do a good job of representing the ongoing momentum of Wanatiki's unstoppable rampage, but we'll have to wait until next week to see how that turns out.

    Because Jennifer, in a move whose brilliance I appreciate more and more the more I think about it, decided that the next scene would have nothing to do with any of the heroes we'd seen so far.  Instead, in an entirely different portion of the base, Brainstorm (her other hero) is woken by the sounds of the alarums and excursions going on elsewhere.

    It seemed possible for me to play Jenny Swift... she's a speedster, she could reasonably be bopping down to gather people.  But I thought that would drag us back into the main plot too quickly.  Who to play, who to play... why MAN-SHARK!  I knew this was the right choice when everyone around the table had to pause to laugh hysterically.  The poor man-beast is so besotted with Freya that he's actually going right into the lair of those who want to throw him in a cage and lose the key, just in order to get a look at her.

    Eric came in with Lava-Boy, which was good because that character (Volcanus's sidekick) really needed an establishing scene before the whole mess that's about to occur around Volcanus.  Go Jennifer!  Good scene framing!

    Emotion Run-Down:  Man-Shark loves Freya, and feels himself unworthy.  Lava-Boy loves Freya but can't make her see, because Freya loves Volcanus.  Lava-Boy can't take out his frustrations on Volcanus... but he can sure as heck take them out on Man-Shark!

    Anti-Man-Shark goals flew fast and furious.  Humiliate Man-Shark, Imprison Man-Shark, and so on and so forth.

    But I was in better form for Man-Shark than last session.  No more "I'm here to be a patsy you beat up on", no sirree!  He shouted, he pleaded, he showed vulnerability ("Man-Shark just want Looooove...."), he bit things with his great big teeth.  It was a hoot.

    Brainstorm the psychic, who had started out just wanting to go back to her meditations developed a strange respect for Man-Shark.  

    That was great fun... Jennifer added the "Someone respects Man-Shark" Event, and it became clear to Eric that Lava-Boy had to win the Event, because if anyone else narrated there was the risk that Lava-Boy would be the one who had to show respect him.  So he won the Conflict and told Jennifer to have Brainstorm respect the man-beast.  Which she would have done anyway, it turns out, but he couldn't take the chance.  Very cool.

    Throughout this I was trying to put out a Conflict that would draw Eric to Stake some of the Debt that he was accumulating on Lava-Boy.  It was an interesting progression from being a kid-gloves-on don't-hurt-PCs pansy into being a proper supervillain.
      [*]First Event:  "Man-Shark sees Freya"... see, because if you control it then Man-Shark can see her when he's going into a prison cell, see... you gotta want that, right?  No interest.[*]Second Goal:  "Force Lava-Boy to admit the truth about why he hates Man-Shark".  See!  The secret love for Freya, the frustration with your mentor!  You gotta keep that secret!  What?  You actually think it would be cool to have that come out!  AGGGH!
      [*]Third Goal:  KILL LAVABOY.  Oh for pete's sake... you don't fear that Goal because you know the rules and genre conventions protect you from death?  Well how about I stake a bunch of debt and maximize my potential to Gloat.  Hah!  I just earned three Story Tokens because you couldn't be bothered to defend your own life!  Oh, NOW I've got your attention, have I?  Now you're staking Debt and beating me down?  Well it's about time![/list:u][/color]I may have sounded frustrated above, but in reality I was really pleased about how little knee-jerk "I must win this because it's there to be won!" reaction there was among the players.  They looked at things and said "Hey, this could be cool either way..."

      So Lava-Boy, on powerful prompting, all but admitted his frustrations with his mentor and his secret love.  Man-Shark, on learning that Lava-Boy was a romantic rival, flipped out.  This pulled Brainstorm in on the "keep Man-shark from killing anyone" side.  Freya showed up just in time to see Man-Shark at his murderous worst, and Man-Shark, defeated by super-powers but betrayed by his own violent nature, gets shuffled off to prison.

      End of session.  Beginning of fevered discussion.

      Quote
      "We have to bring Man-Shark in on the mission to hunt down Volcanus somehow.  He's got a TON of Debt, and we'll need that to overcome Wanatiki."

      "How about if Wanatiki wants to raise an underwater volcano to the surface?  Man-Shark would be the obvious choice to get down there and go head to head with him."

      "And Brainstorm respects him enough to make that recommendation!"

      "But then there's going to be this huge preponderance of heroes on one side against Volcanus and the Necklace."

      "He needs some allies.  Didn't he have an Exemplar for Justice who used to be his partner, but now is a villain?"

      "Eclipso, yeah... Eclipso would leap at the chance to work with an evil Volcanus."

      "Heh... he was probably trying to steal the necklace just for that purpose."

      >Silent, sudden, pause<

      "HE PLANTED IT!  That's why it was just lying out there in the middle of the museum!"

      "And Man-Shark was a stooge!  He was sent to steal it because Eclipso knows that Nemesis would send Volcanus to try to capture Man-Shark!"

      "And then Volcanus would try to figure out what it is, constantly exposing himself to temptation!  It was all a fiendishly clever plot, and the heroes fell right into it!"

      "My God!  It's so OBVIOUS!"

      "Wow!  From the outside it looks like we were really smart!"
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