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Author Topic: Ron Edwards explains why Capes freaks some people out  (Read 8779 times)
Sydney Freedberg
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« on: August 26, 2005, 11:38:57 AM »

We've had lots of furballing discussions over the way Capes allows any player to create enormous changes in the shared imagined space at will -- e.g. "I roll up 'Goal: Impress My Date' using 'Laser-Beam Eyes' to, uh, destroy the world. Ooh, I got a five!" -- and how this strikes some people as a gaping weakness and others as an essential freedom of the game, with the authors and fans of Universalis tending to fall on the "that can't work!" side. And today, in this thread about an entirely different game, without ever actually mentioning Capes, Ron Edwards finally made me understand why this Great Wall of Incomprehension exists:

I will offer an interesting difference between two "superfamilies" of highly Narrativist-focused game design. [snippage] On the left-hand side, one superfamily is rooted in stuff like Over the Edge and Cyberpunk and goes on through the "door" of Sorcerer, branching apart from there. It includes Dogs in the Vineyard.

On the right-hand side, the other superfamily is rooted in stuff like Story Engine and Soap, and it goes on through the "door" of Universalis, branching apart rather drastically from there. It includes (via MLWM) Polaris.

All you people who are crazed with anticipation, just settle down. All that matters now is one single point, and you don't really need the diagram for it. Except to see Dogs 'way over on one side and Polaris 'way over on another, like critters in vastly different sectors of a phylogeny.

On the side which includes Dogs, single participants have overriding, brutal, arbitrary authority over the "II" of IIEE. In other words, what their characters want to do and start to do cannot be overriden or even mechanically modified by anyone else at the table. If you state, "He kisses her," and the group goes into the Conflict Resolution system, it's established, the kiss is both intended and initiated.

On the side which includes Polaris, the entire IIEE of any character's actions/etc is subject to vetting of some kind, whether it's negation, modification, or letting it lie, and whether it's full-group or by a designated person. All actions are subject to drastic reinterpretations of the outcomes of Conflict Resolution. Including the first "I," intent, of IIEE. If you state, "He kisses her," then eventually, the way the scene works out, it's at least possible that he never even thought about or tried to kiss her.


Bald, painful fact: the left-hand side is socially more dangerous, and the right-hand side is socially safer. And it strikes me very firmly, after discussing this game with a number of people who were involved, that at least a couple people were approaching playing Dogs as if it were in the other "superfamily." They assumed that if they were uncomfortable with what a given PC was about to be doing, that they had a say in vetting that stated action. Whereas, bluntly, the game is set up for exactly the opposite.

Ron is talking about Dogs in the Vineyard, here, not Capes, but I'd argue that Capes not only belongs to the same superfamily, but is the hard-over, far frontier, extreme version of it: Not only can I not tell you, "no, your character didn't want to do that," I can't even tell you, "no, your character couldn't possibly do that." Whereas Universalis is the Godfather of the other superfamily, where my right to at least try to override you is built explicitly into the rules.

Interesting and crucial caveat: In Capes, I can restrict your freedom of stating a particular intention by creating a preventive Conflict like "Goal: Your character has a particular intention." But that's not a systemic right-of-consultation over the whole shared imagined space, it doesn't prevent you from stating an infinite number of other intentions without my approval, and indeed is in some ways the exception that proves the rule: Capes gives me so much freedom to act without consultation that I can even act for your character. Conversely, Universalis only offers the right to challenge someone else's narration, not a guaranteed veto -- I can always run out of Coins before I override you -- but the principle of the right-to-consult is still enshrined.

So despite their many similarities -- everyone has GM-style director power, you can introduce new characters at will, even the incentive structure that losing Conflicts gets you resources (Story Tokens or Coins) -- Capes and Universalis are polar opposites on a fundamental level.

And now I really want to play some Universalis, darn it.
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jburneko
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« Reply #1 on: August 26, 2005, 12:28:58 PM »

I read that post by Ron and imediately thought of Capes as well.  But I think capes takes it even further.  Ron talk's about the left-hand group having the two Is linked.  I think Capes takes it one step further.  It links II and the first E.

When I say, "I pick him up and throw him across the room..." not only do I Intend it and Initiate it but I've also already Executed it and there's not a damn thing anyone can do about it.  Oddly enough the last E, Effect, is WAY delayed in Capes.    That last E isn't determined until the whole Conflit resolves (and arguably maybe not even until someone spends the Inspiration earned from it).

So yeah, it's freaky. Freaky but highly functional.

Jesse
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Andrew Morris
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« Reply #2 on: August 26, 2005, 12:42:04 PM »

Hmm....interesting. I've often thought of Capes as "Universalis with a skeleton," but  this seems to be a more accurate way of stating it.

And now I really want to play some Universalis, darn it.

Yes, you do. In fact, you must. Universalis is awesome. So is Capes. In fact, I've gotta go play Capes right now.
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Tony Irwin
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« Reply #3 on: August 26, 2005, 01:31:03 PM »

We've had lots of furballing discussions over the way Capes allows any player to create enormous changes in the shared imagined space at will -- e.g. "I roll up 'Goal: Impress My Date' using 'Laser-Beam Eyes' to, uh, destroy the world. Ooh, I got a five!" -- and how this strikes some people as a gaping weakness and others as an essential freedom of the game, with the authors and fans of Universalis tending to fall on the "that can't work!" side.

Hi Sydney.

That part of your post made me cry because it sounds like drawing lines and picking sides.

The rest of your post was fantastic and I think it really helped me to understand some things, thanks!

Tony
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Tony Irwin
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« Reply #4 on: August 26, 2005, 01:52:33 PM »

Sorry Sydney, that turned into a stupid "Me too!" post. What I meant to add is that as well as being an interesting way of looking at the two games it also gives me a bit of insight into my own preferences and relationships. Like if I'm thinking things like "I would play Universalis with that guy, but I would never play Capes with that guy". That kind of stuff.
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TonyLB
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« Reply #5 on: August 26, 2005, 03:36:11 PM »

Tony:  Crying?  There's no crying in baseball!

Seriously, though, I hope that you understand that Sydney is referring to a huge cluster of threads (notably Why have conflicts at all? and Why narrate at all?) that utterly dominated this board back in April.  Several heavy fans of Universalis, and Ralph and Mike very specifically, said that while Capes was a good game, the lack of player ability to veto between I-I and E-E was a weakness that would undermine the ability to form a functional game.

So Sydney's not offering supposition about what Ralph and Mike (and at least some of their fans) might think.  He's not drawing lines in the sand in order to be combative.  He's referring to their statements on the record.  And I, for one, agree that those statements look really fascinating (less mind-boggling and more understandable) under the light of Ron's insightful comment.
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Tony Irwin
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« Reply #6 on: August 26, 2005, 04:04:12 PM »

I'm a fan of Universalis and Capes. Is there room for me anywhere in this world?

Quote
Seriously, though, I hope that you understand that Sydney is referring to a huge cluster of threads (notably Why have conflicts at all? and Why narrate at all?) that utterly dominated this board back in April.  Several heavy fans of Universalis, and Ralph and Mike very specifically, said that while Capes was a good game, the lack of player ability to veto between I-I and E-E was a weakness that would undermine the ability to form a functional game.

Yeah I dig that, I chuckled though at the unintended hint of an implication that Universalis fanboys had been coming over to these boards to bash Capes but now we know what's wrong with those sickos ;-) I followed that fascinating series of threads as it progressed and progressed and progressed. They were inspired, I think, by a genuine fascination with your game and a desire to understand and articulate why some aspects (for some people) just didn't seem to sit right.

I think what they missed is that the ability to veto at any time is implicit to any enjoyable social activity and worthwhile relationship. That's what ensures these things are enjoyable and worthwhile. It only needs to be incorporated into the ruleset as protection against people you ultimately don't enjoy being with and who aren't really worth trying to oh rats I'm not going dig all that up again the thread is dead
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #7 on: August 26, 2005, 05:48:32 PM »

....I think what they missed is that the ability to veto at any time is implicit to any enjoyable social activity ....It only needs to be incorporated into the ruleset as protection against people you ultimately don't enjoy being with ....

On one level, yeah, of course; on another level, huh, what?

Imagine you're hosting a dinner party. On the one level, If I begin groping your spouse/pet or throwing dishes, yeah, everyone can veto my actions, because I'm a jerk, and no one has to spell that rule out. On the other level, what if I don't bring anything (an appetizer, some beer, a dessert)? That makes me a jerk if you, as host, said, "hey, I'll make the main course, could each of you bring something?"; but if you said, "you don't need to bring anything, I have this whole French gourmet meal planned out, it'll be great," I'd be a jerk if I brought my five-bean salad and 6-pack of Corona anyway. So in this case, you absolutely need to specify the rule.

Gee, and I'm not sure I get my own analogy, now. You can see, though, how the clash of assumptions can lead people accustomed to one model to think the other one is disfunctional -- until, of course, they see that the other guys are doing something different not by mistake, but because they were tryign to achieve a different result:

A: "What, you mean you never bring some beer or salad or bread or anything? You guys must have crappy parties!"
B: "What, you just bring whatever you want, regardless of what the host is making?"
A: "Well, y'know, we just like to throw a casual dinner whenever, no stress on the host."
B: "Oh. Our thing is usually that whoever's hosting wants to show off some fancy thing they just learned how to make, with all the proper sides and the right wine and all."
A & B (in perfect harmony): "That sounds like fun! I want to try it!"
 
The basic point is that while extreme asinity can be vetoed any time, it is a tremendous help to everyone to spell out what other behaviors, normally acceptable, are subject to veto in this particular case because of the particular effect we're trying to achieve. The second kind of veto is not a protection against jerks, it's a tool to guide the collaborative activity in a particular direction.
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Larry L.
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aka Miskatonic


« Reply #8 on: August 27, 2005, 12:40:13 AM »

Syndey,

I agree with your inital post 100%. Brilliant.* Right on the money. Worth elaborating to anyone who doesn't follow.

But

Imagine you're hosting a dinner party. On the one level, If I begin groping your spouse/pet or throwing dishes, yeah, everyone can veto my actions, because I'm a jerk, and no one has to spell that rule out. On the other level, what if I don't bring anything (an appetizer, some beer, a dessert)? That makes me a jerk if you, as host, said, "hey, I'll make the main course, could each of you bring something?"; but if you said, "you don't need to bring anything, I have this whole French gourmet meal planned out, it'll be great," I'd be a jerk if I brought my five-bean salad and 6-pack of Corona anyway. So in this case, you absolutely need to specify the rule.

fuck if I'm getting dragged into the "Are you being a jerk, or aren't you being a jerk?" slugfest again. I can see where this is going to end up. And it would suck if your original point got lost in the crossfire.

You might want to take the advice of M.J. Young and slow down. Don't go kickin' the shitcan over just yet, you know?


* Hey, wasn't Ron just complaining about this?


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LordSmerf
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« Reply #9 on: August 27, 2005, 04:15:08 AM »

This is all really interesting.

Doubly so since I saw Ron's chart at GenCon.  Now, he's said he made some changes, but as of last week Capes was quite firmly set as a direct descendent of Universalis which puts it on the opposite side of the gap from Dogs in the Vineyard.

Now, when Ron discussed it at GenCon he brought up Capes in the context of currency distribution and economy.  Specifically, Capes was getting its own sub-branch of the tree (split from the Universalis side) because it avoids the common currency problem of inflation (which was an incrdibly cool line of inquiry all on its own).

Again, Ron mentioned some changes to the chart and it's quite possibly that he's shifted things around, but it's interesting to see this discussion anyway because I think there may be something to it.  Capes is so radical precisely because you simultaneously have near-complete and near-zero control of the SIS...

Thomas
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #10 on: August 28, 2005, 12:32:49 PM »

Hello,

Capes is on the Universalis side. However, many of the insights I get out of the diagram are tendencies, rather than definitional. Furthermore, Capes is its own rather unique little twig, separated from all the others, and represents quite a few different "apomorphies" (if you can stand it).

And it also strikes me that IIEE in Capes becomes very different when everyone is skilled at the game, and when everyone is working from lots of Tokens and lots of Debt. Frankly, most discussions about playing Capes - and most especially the ones referred to earlier - are kindergarten stuff, all about the very first move in the very first scene when no one has either Tokens or Debt. That's like having some kind of issue about how to play Monopoly based on someone saying, upon rolling the dice for the very first time, "Why can't we go in either direction, why do we have to keep going just the one way?"

Anyway, so I'm not buying some of what I'm reading here about announcements and actions. I'm inclined to extend Jesse's point rather drastically - that most announcement and narration in Capes is pure Color regardless of how drastic it would be in many RPGs, and that the real action is best understood only as the final E, quite a while after it was first announced. From that perspective, and considering how much negotiation and Currency can be utilized to modify it, Capes sits very squarely in the Universalis side of things.

Best,
Ron
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TonyLB
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« Reply #11 on: August 28, 2005, 02:02:59 PM »

You seem to be saying that the important IIEE in Capes is:

Intent:  Propose a Goal or Event.
Initiation:  That conflict is not vetoed, and enters play.
Execution:  People contest that conflict, using the dice, sometimes for a long, long time.
Effect:  The conflict is resolved.

Have I got that about right?
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #12 on: August 28, 2005, 04:47:52 PM »

Hi Tony,

A lot of people get confused about IIEE. It refers only to characters' fictional, in-game actions. It has nothing to do with when the real people say or propose things. Or more accurately, the principle that IIEE illustrates is that the rules and procedures of play need to be explicit about the IIEE of the fictional actions.

As I understand it, if a group of people is playing Capes and they're all good at it, and they all have a bunch of Debt and Tokens flowin' around fairly actively, then Execution by the characters is going to get heavily negotiated, and Effect will only shake out over the course of a good number of interactions. The two "I's" are never actually played - they are retroactively established, or constructed out of a series of suggestions, after the "E's" are shaken out through a veritable flurry of tokens and point-spending.

Best,
Ron
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TonyLB
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« Reply #13 on: August 28, 2005, 05:15:15 PM »

Ron,

I'm not getting the point you're driving at.  Let me season this with an Actual Play snippet, so that we have a real-world foundation to (hopefully) give us common terms:

The popular goal "Humiliate Major Victory" was on the table.  We had news crews broadcasting live.  As part of an action (not part of resolving the goal) a player stated that their character was pulling down Major Victory's pants and exposing him on live television.  That simply happened.  There isn't any seam in the rules for anyone to stick in a wedge and object to any part of that.  It was completely at the discretion of the narrating player.

But Major Victory was not humiliated, could not be humiliated, while the Goal was unresolved.  So there he is, in the altogether, but he still has his dignity.  That's just how cool he is.

So, is it possible to apply IIEE to analyze these character actions?  Or... if they're just Color does that mean that IIEE doesn't apply?  And if so, what does it apply to?
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #14 on: August 29, 2005, 10:29:11 AM »

Interesting discussion. (I'm travelling, and have rather limited web access, but couldn't help chiming back in). I certainly see that Universalis and Capes have a fundamental similarity using a currency of resources to establish every mechanically significant element of the SIS (something Dogs, for example, doesn't have at all), yet at the same time they have a fundamental difference in that in Universalis, any narration can potentially be challenged, and in Capes, large categories of narration cannot be challenged (as in Tony's example), although of course players can and do negotiate about them if they wish.

It's probably an act of madness to try to categorize games (or any other cultural product) in absolutely clear lineages of descent, anyway: that works for genetic evolution, but not for memes, which keep on cross-pollinating.

P.S.: Larry, you're absolutely right that the whole "who's being a jerk?" issue is a red herring.

(And now I'll sit back and let Ron answer Tony's question).
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