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Author Topic: [Capes] Getting whooped but good  (Read 5093 times)
TonyLB
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« on: September 29, 2004, 07:08:35 AM »

Played Capes over IRC again on monday.  I've posted a transcript again, mostly because it's easy.

Fun, unexpected session.  Our heroes got trounced.  Seriously, it is hard to describe the full extent of how badly we were defeated.  Some of this was continuing trouble from an internal conflict going on in my character.  So yay for that!  Much of it was the fact that we managed to roll 1 on a six-sided die ten times in a row.  Ones are not good in this system.

Two happy things made this a fascinating and fun session, despite (indeed, because of) the statistical anomaly:

First, we were all thoroughly into our power by way of director stance, so our dice-whiffs didn't turn into boring or powerless narration.  We were still playing kick-butt superheroes... just superheroes who were being thwarted at every turn.  I don't know about Zip's player, but I at least owe Mike Holmes a great debt for this post on Jorn, Son of Jirm, that showed how whiffing could still be heroic.  

Second, the genre has an explicit safety net.  Getting slapped down isn't going to result in the death (or even lasting discomfort) of comic book superheroes.  Somebody's going to get taken off to an elaborate death-trap, that's all.  And death-traps are fun!

When the bad luck started, both of the players were thinking "Why, oh why, didn't we play in a diceless system?"  But I'm actually really glad that the dice went as crazy as they did.  I don't think we would ever consciously have created as humiliating a defeat as the dice forced us to, and that would have been a tremendous loss.  Because I have very high hopes for our next session, in which our (hopefully) inevitable comeback will be detailed!

I compare and contrast this with an earlier experience (also in a superhero game) where a GM explicitly set out to deliver our characters a humiliating defeat in battle, with the intent of our later comeback being all the more sweet.  There was a sense of gut-wrenching unfairness about that session that I did not feel here.  I felt (though I couldn't verbalize it this way at the time) that our Social Contract included a right for the players to have a meaningful say in how things turned out, and that the GM had violated that contract.

What I can't tell, honestly, is why one experience was fun and one was awful.  I have two theories:
    [*]Theory #1:  Being screwed over by the dice is "part of the game", but being screwed over by the GM destroys the ability of the PCs to contribute from a tactical standpoint, or...[*]Theory #2:  In mondays game we were pursuing other goals (resolution on our moral quandaries, addressing premise, whatever) and the combat was a vehicle for those goals, whereas in the previous game victory in combat was portrayed as the goal and moral quandaries were side-lights to be examined when they didn't get in the way[/list:u]
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    Ron Edwards
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    « Reply #1 on: September 29, 2004, 08:46:31 AM »

    Hiya,

    This is a Sorcerer lesson, actually - sometimes you get your ass kicked. I have found, over and over, that this experience during play is terrible when (a) the resolution is task-based and (b) the ass-kicking is part of a planned sequence of scenes. And I don't just mean bummer, kind of oh well terrible. I mean evening-destroying, experience-destroying, fucked-up terrible, in that people really don't want to be around one another as people after an experience like that.

    But playing conflict resolution (Sorcerer, HeroQuest, Primdtime Adventures, The Pool) is different. A loss loses the conflict, and that means adversity. That means your character might lose, but does not stop being who he or she is. Or replace "is" with "changing into" if that's part of what's going on. Losing might involve injury or dying, but oddly, that seems OK in this context too.

    You seem to have nailed this with Capes, and as always, I suggest buying With Great Power, if you haven't already, and rubbing it all over your bare torso. I mean! Reading and playing it. I'm really looking forward to a revolutionary wave of great superhero games by GenCon next year.

    Ahem.
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    LordSmerf
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    Posts: 864


    « Reply #2 on: September 29, 2004, 09:45:36 AM »

    As the GM in this little escapade i wanted to point out a number of cool things within Capes that i am just now picking up on...

    1. The safety net that Tony mentions.  Since we all know that we are playing within the same genre we, to a great degree, share expectations.  The Heroes will win eventually.  This set of genre expectations in turn generates a huge number of really great side effects some of which i will include in the list.

    2. Story Arcs.  Though there are no explicit rules for it (Tony if you could see your way to making some...), comic books naturally tell stories in Arcs.  That is multiple discreet sessions.  This translates perfectly into play sessions and provides a sense of pacing.  Since the last "Issue" was 3 of 4 we know that the arc will conclude at the end of the next Session.  We know, so we are able to target our story for it.

    3. Debt.  Despite the horrible rolls of the heroes and the brilliant rolls of the villains the heroes still managed to utterly trounce the villains on a Complication in which they simply stacked 4 points of Debt.  This gave them four dice to the villain's one die, so the outcome was pretty clear.  I like this because it generates play in which if something is important enough to the hero's player and the villains do not care, the hero is almost sure to be victorious.

    Thomas
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    Callan S.
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    « Reply #3 on: September 29, 2004, 04:05:52 PM »

    Quote
    I compare and contrast this with an earlier experience (also in a superhero game) where a GM explicitly set out to deliver our characters a humiliating defeat in battle, with the intent of our later comeback being all the more sweet. There was a sense of gut-wrenching unfairness about that session that I did not feel here. I felt (though I couldn't verbalize it this way at the time) that our Social Contract included a right for the players to have a meaningful say in how things turned out, and that the GM had violated that contract.

    Theory #1: Being screwed over by the dice is "part of the game", but being screwed over by the GM destroys the ability of the PCs to contribute from a tactical standpoint, or...

    I think it's a matter of acceptance. You can read the rules and note down exactly where the rules decide things for you. Then you can think about it and decide whether you accept that. It's not so much part of the game, because it really doesn't have to be, but something you accept.

    Likwise, what the GM gets to decide is pretty much agreed to before game. But when he starts making descisions where it hasn't been agreed he can, he's breaking contract. And if he's up to breaking contract...what the hell will ever ensure he sticks to it in future. The dice never do that...they just give you shitty rolls and you think 'Ah hell, I asked for that/agreed to that, didn't I? Oh well', and it didn't screw with what you agreed to. Cept in your game it sounds more productive than usual to have a really bizarre sequence of shitty rolls, every so often.

    BTW, I am glued to your accounts of Capes, though I find going through IRC transcripts hard.
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    TonyLB
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    « Reply #4 on: October 08, 2004, 09:36:58 AM »

    Well, we finished up that story line last night.  I'm holding off on the effort of writing up the transcript to see whether anyone wants to wade through it.  I'll try to summarize what happened.

    My scheduling is such that I will not be able to attend Thomas's next arc in this story.  That definitely influenced my feelings during the session.  This was the swan-song of Gray Ghost.  I was quite confident that he would reach a dramatic conclusion.  And he did.  But it was nothing like the dramatic conclusion I was aiming for.

    Basically, we got pretty thoroughly stomped, for a variety of reasons.  Gray Ghost came up to the brink of losing his faith, and tried to make the turn back towards redemption and a modicum of hope... and couldn't.  The domineering old man who never admitted weakness, never confessed to limits, came to the end of his ability to pretend that the world was his and his alone to control.  He ended up sprawled feebly on the floor, admitting to his arch-rival that heroism was dead and his hopes were dust and ashes.

    Travis's character, Zip, fared better.  He managed to find the strength to pull out what could be construed as a victory... a horribly painful one, both physically and emotionally, but still.  He did save the girl.  He did get a kiss.  He did escape the death-trap.  He just got himself utterly battered on the way out, against a villain who demonstrated vast superiority with very few lapses.

    It was a hard session for me:  Painful, Satisfying, Sad and Confusing.  I played Gray Ghost for a very short time.  I will rememer him far longer than most other characters.  His ending was a very right ending for him.  But I liked the cantankerous old geezer and a big part of me wishes his world could have been a happier one.
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    LordSmerf
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    « Reply #5 on: October 08, 2004, 09:43:01 AM »

    It is somewhat hard for me to express exactly what i have enjoyed about these sessions...  There is this sense of serious tragedy that i do not believe we were aiming for going in, but which really has created this exciting story.

    Tony, if you want to take a break, i will put of the transcripts this evening and provide some preliminary commentary...  But man, that last session was rather draining emotionally for me...  I think it may take a while to recover...

    Thomas
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