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[Capes] The power of explicit conflicts

Started by TonyLB, March 04, 2005, 05:43:21 PM

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Despite having written a conflict-resolution game, I have a great fondness for task-resolution mechanics.  I've thought, for a long time, that there's nothing structurally that conflicts can do that tasks couldn't.  But an experience on wednesday may just have changed my mind.  There's something conflict resolution does that I can't see task resolution ever handling.

We were in the pleasant jungle village that is home to my character Zak.  Sydney introduced a pile of lizard-men attacking the village, and made a "Take humans prisoner" goal to go with them.  Then he narrated how the lizards leapt forward and started cutting people down.  

My stomach lurched.  I had a crystal-clear moment where something inside my head shouted "He can NOT do that unilaterally", and then it passed but I was still at a low simmer.  I knew that he unquestionably was allowed to do that, and much more besides.  I didn't want to know it, but I did.  I was a good boy, I kept my mouth shut.  

About three minutes later, it was my turn, and I created "Goal:  Hurt Human Beings" for the lizard-men.  That means (in Capes) that nobody is allowed to use hurting human beings as color-narrative.  It's been referred to the rule system, and can't happen (or be decisively prevented) until it's resolved by the rules.

And right as Sydney grinned and said "Awww... I wanted to butcher people without having to fight for it," the knot in my stomach cleared like magic.  I had a straightforward, uninflected way to say exactly what I wanted, and to make it stick.  Sydney now knew the issue, and we had a means for further negotiation.  As it turns out we "negotiated" pretty damn hard on that one, and I honestly believe that by the end of it I would have been willing to lose.  The bloodshed would no longer have been just a unilateral fiat:  we'd both worked hard.  It would have sucked, but it would have sucked in a way that made me proud of us as a group, and eager to play the consequences.

If I'd had to argue against the slaughter on any other basis... oh God.  I've had those arguments way too often in the past.  Both sides get twitchy because the rules don't support them just saying "Hey, I don't want these people killed!"  Instead they say absolutely stupid things that have only tangential relevance:
    [*]"These are warrior people!  They would be ready for an attack!  And I get a +3 awareness check, and you didn't even let me roll it!"
    [*]"Comic books don't have that sort of bloodshed for no reason!  You've got to justify it in the story!"
    [*]"How could lizard-men sneak up on a village?  Even if they're only 1.2 meters high, average ground cover for the region is a mere .95 meters!"[/list:u]You want to see a prime example of this sort of conversation going horribly awry?  You can read GM Refusal to explain ruling.  Only, really, don't.  It's brutally painful, and I am sorry to have ever brought such a dysfunctional display to the board (much less as my first big introduction to other Forgites... urggghh....)

    I am, however, absolutely thrilled to have finally figured out a tool that makes those firestorms vanishingly unlikely.  If I never have that level of spiralling misunderstanding with another player (and it looks like I very well may not) then I will be a much happier man.
    Just published: Capes
    New Project:  Misery Bubblegum

    Ron Edwards

    We're in a new world, people. I'm beginning to think that the classic knee-jerk reaction to many of the games authored by participants here - "That's not really role-playing, though" - is not worth arguing against.

    It's not really role-playing, huh? OK, then it's not. We'll go do it over here, where most of the rest of the world is standing anyway.

    Sorcerer, InSpectres, and the Pool cried just a little bit louder in the wilderness than some of their predecessors and contemporaries, among which they were quirky little perverts. Dust Devils and Universalis found and opened the door. My Life with Master, Dogs in the Vineyard, Capes, Fastlane, Primetime Adventures, Trollbabe, and tons of others were "there to be found" on the other side.

    Matt Snyder likes to call this the Great Divide. If your boat is floated by conflict resolution, and if your driving aesthetic goal is Premise Seizes Us by Throat, then once you've been playing these games, it's like your silver cord has been severed. There's no returning, not really.

    The aesthetic fascination of what "would" happen goes away. The social system (or un-system) founded on arguing over that, with its attendant status and authority games, just vanishes. Adding up and balancing points becomes utterly absurd as a proposition; good vs. bad ways to do it seem like cults rather than design principles. System becomes socially functional, rather than substituting for socializing.

    Explaining role-playing or this whatever-it-is to non-gamers becomes easy to you, and intriguing to them - "hey, can I try it?" is their instant response. The fifty standard-RPG books on your shelf look like like a horrifying attempt to find fun by buying it. The game store ceases to be Mecca, and Expert Bob who works there is suddenly revealed to be a rather shabby and hopeless man.

    Capes and Primetime Adventures are, to my way of thinking, doing amazing things. This "other side of the door" world is still just beginning.

    Tony, this was Capes, right? But not superheroes? Explain more about the game itself, or if I'm missing a thread I should be remembering, point me there.


    Larry L.

    Yes, more about the game setup for this example. I'm eager to push Capes into some other genre, but I have this suspicion that the world of four-color comics lends itself especially well to high degrees of incongruity between Creative Agendas, i.e GM-less gaming.

    What kind of Comics Code, if any, are you using?


    It's Capes, and it's super-heroes.  It's... well, the game is rising to a challenge from Eric, who organized it and drafted me into it.  Best I can recall he said it roughly like this:

    "So I've seen you try a speedster in Capes, and it works.  Speedsters never work.  And I've played a pure stealth character, and it works.  Pure-stealth characters never work.  So now I want to play a game with unrestricted, continuous time-travel.  Because that never works."

    I think Eric's a little sadistic, in a very dry way that's hard to pin down.

    So our characters are based in a satellite at the (literal) end of time, and they travel back into the past to do superheroic things.  And, of course, superheroism is rampant throughout the timestream.  Another quote from wednesday's game:  "King Arthur has super-strength?  What am I saying... of course King Arthur has super-strength.  How could he not?"

    We've negotiated a very light Comics Code.  Spotlight characters cannot be killed or maimed except when their player is Resolving.  So I can kill Zak, as part of winning a conflict (i.e. world-shaping self-sacrifice) but nobody else can.  Likewise, nobody but me can compromise the root conflicts between my spotlight character and their exemplars.  And... I think that's it.  There's no rule against slaughtering innocents.  No rule against destroying the world.  No rule against utterly reshaping history.  We're working without a net here, God help us all.

    We each described an "era" that we wanted to play in as players.   Pretopia (my era) is somewhere in time and space.  We're pretty sure that nobody knows quite when or where.  And it's loaded with all the classics of jungle pulp:  enlightened villagers, nasty lizard-folk with their own brand of strange honor, advanced technology and robots, dinosaurs wandering around, cybernetic monkey masterminds, voudoun magic and probably some pirates we just haven't seen yet.  It's a grab-bag, by design.  But still super-heroic, in its way.
    Just published: Capes
    New Project:  Misery Bubblegum

    Sydney Freedberg

    I definitely had fun that night -- despite the fact that I was the only bad guy in the jungle battle and had all three other players plus the dice repeatedly smack me down: Capes cheerfully paid out in story tokens every time I hit the mat like a good bad guy.

    Another illustration of the power of Capes resolution -- which is not only conflict resolution, but completely agnostic about whether the conflicts are things actually happening in the world of the story or the structure of the story itself -- was in the followup scene. I'd been dropping hints about dragons (well, dragons that shapeshift into attractive dark-haired women....) for some time, the heroes were down a cavern that one of them came from, and Tony laid down "Event: The Dragons' role is revealed" i.e. "Sydney, stop hinting and just tell us already, for cryin' out loud." Then everyone stepped back and let me take control of that conflict so I could narrate the answer. I don't think there's any way to handle that with a task-resolution system, or even conflict-resolution that's purely simulationist (i.e. about what happens inside the world of the story rather than about the shape of hte story).

    Quote from: Tony"King Arthur has super-strength? What am I saying... of course King Arthur has super-strength. How could he not?"

    Oh, and then there was that scene. Here's another place where the system shone. It was my turn to declare a scene, and, since we'd had a lot of Arthurian legendry running around, I said it was the field of the last battle between Arthur and Mordred, just before the armies clash -- and that as far as I was concerned, it could be a vision or a flashback or anything, without any strict connection to the chronology of the other scenes, I didn't care. Everyone blinked; one person chose to play her regular character and work out the justification later (turned out to be a flashback); and the rest of us spent invented new charactes on the spot: I was King Arthur, Eric was Merlin (who turned out to be someone else too), and Tony was "the chaos of the battle," personified as a character. It took about 5 minutes. If it'd been GURPS, we'd still be at it.


    People, this thread just sold me Capes.

    At least, I´ll get it as soon as I find someone with a Paypal account or a credit card. BUT THEN IT WILL BE MINE!!!

    When you love something, let it go.
    If it doesn´t return, hunt it down and kill it.

    Larry L.

    Indie Press Revolution has a 20% off sale until March 11. Hurry!


    Quote from: Ron EdwardsThe aesthetic fascination of what "would" happen goes away.

    To backtrack one moment, when Ron wrote this did he mean:

    a) what 'would' happen next in this reality that we're playing in right now;
    b) what I (the player) would like to have happen next and you're messing with my vision; or
    c) something else?

    Gametime: a New Zealand blog about RPGs

    Callan S.

    Bug turned beutifully to feature!!

    Quote from: TonyLBDespite having written a conflict-resolution game, I have a great fondness for task-resolution mechanics.  I've thought, for a long time, that there's nothing structurally that conflicts can do that tasks couldn't.  But an experience on wednesday may just have changed my mind.  There's something conflict resolution does that I can't see task resolution ever handling.
    But I'm just wondering, is this about conflict resolution? Conflict resolution sort of determines all of the tasks (and their results) that would have happened in the conflict.

    Here, were not so much looking at conflict resolution, but the determination of what conflicts can occur, rather than just how they resolve. Like conflict resolution is a level above task resolution, I'm seeing what your doing as a level above conflict resolution. Just speculating here.

    PS: 'GM Refusal to explain ruling', DAMN! I participated in that thread! Hmmm, new light shed on that one, that's for sure!
    Philosopher Gamer


    I'll try to reconstruct my post, lost to DB hackers.  The twits!

    In most games, there is Rules Stuff (where the rules arbitrate what happens) and Soft Stuff (where players co-create what happens, using a variety of social dynamics, but with multiple options all equally valid under the ruels).

    In Task Resolution, "What you do" is mostly Rules Stuff, while "What it means" is mostly Soft Stuff.  The dice tell you that you slay the giant.  Then the group decides whether you free the kingdom from tyranny.

    In Conflict Resolution "What it means" is mostly Rules Stuff, while "What you do" is mostly Soft Stuff.  The dice tell you that you free the kingdom from tyranny.  Then you decide that you slay the giant to do it.

    Callan, I think you're talking about the question of how to decide what is Rules Stuff, and what is Soft Stuff.  Which is, I agree, something different from the question of Conflict vs. Task resolution.  But I think that seeing it as a "level above" Conflict Resolution is a little strange.  Maybe a category error.  Have I misunderstood you?
    Just published: Capes
    New Project:  Misery Bubblegum

    Callan S.

    Tony: A bit of a missunderstanding I think,
    Quote from: MeHere, were not so much looking at conflict resolution, but the determination of what conflicts can occur
    From your play account the conflict changed from the lizardmen killing humans, to their hurting humans. And rather than the usual social system to change this, your rules assisted with it (to your relief, no less).

    So your determining what type of conflict can happen, through rules use (rather than just social dynamic). Were not at the conflict resolution stage yet, since resolution can only come after determining what conflict your going to have in the first place. It's either a level above, or atleast a step prior to conflict resolution, I think. It looks like you've design rules that are beyond just handling conflict resolution, to me.
    Philosopher Gamer