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Author Topic: Capes virgin question on narration limits  (Read 6117 times)
Hans
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Posts: 576


« on: November 01, 2005, 11:59:53 AM »

Hello:

Ok, I'm playing my first game this weekend (come join me in Hamilton, Ontario!) and as I have been trying to describe the game to others to get them interested, a question keeps coming up.  That question is this:  "Won't there be absolute chaos?"

Now I suspect if there is absolute chaos in a game, then the game would not be generating the interest it has been generating.  But here is a play example (not actual play) that describes the concern people have:

A new scene is starting:
Player 1: Our intrepid heroes are all sitting in their favourite cafe having a cup of coffee.  From across the street, they all hear the banks alarm go off.  As my first action, I will create a goal: Foil Bank Robbery.
Player 2: Its my turn?  Cool.  I use my magnetic control to drag an asteroid from the asteroid belt, demolishing several city blocks, in my brash and misguided attempt to foil the bank robbery.  *rolls a die on the goal above*  A four, I'll accept.  Any reactions?
Player 3: What the *&%^%^#? kind of game is this?

As another example, paraphrased from the play examples on page 47 in the rule book, but subtly altered (my altered text, in case you can't find it, will be in bold):

Chris: I'm going to use Zip's Super-Speed to React to your four.
Alex: Where are you putting the Debt for using the power?
Chris: Hope. I roll a two. You still Control. Zip runs runs so quickly he causes the earth to rotate backward and turns back time to 1914, where he prevents the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and thus stops WW1, he then returns to the gymnasium. "I've already done, like, two thousand repetitions. Another couple of hundred won't make any difference!" And then....
Alex: Captain Liberty turns and gives him The Look. "It might be the difference between life and death for an innocent in need."
Chris: Nobody does guilt like the Captain.
Alex: Okay. I'm using Superstrength to React. Debt in Justice. Cap uses his super-strength to crush a nearby chair into such a tiny space it creates a miniature black hole, which sucks the entire gymnasium into its event horizon, and says "We all have different strengths... you must learn to hone yours." I roll a four.
Chris: Ouch!

Now I know the above are extreme examples.   I recognize in the first example Player 2's character has not yet achieved the goal of foiling the bank robbery; from that persepective, the dramatic thrust of the scene so far (the bank robbery) is still in doubt.  However, from another perspective he has just demolished several city blocks, and presented player 3 with a really considerable problem on how to narrate anything beyond this point.    I also recognize that if a person did this kind of thing repeatedly, I would stop playing with them. In my opinion the players in the examples above are not entering into the spirit of the thing, and are just being silly. 

But it definitely illustrates the core concern people have raised to me regarding the game.  I will try to state this concern in forgespeak to the best of my ability: if what a person narrates on their turn is immediately entered into the shared information space as a fact, are there any system limits on what can be entered that does not relate to a unresolved goal or event on the table, or are the only limits the comics code mechanic and the social contract. 

I recognize that one way to prevent these things would be to make them goals or events ("Prevent WWI", "Drag asterorid from asteroid belt to destroy part of city", "Crush matter into black hole") and that then these would have to be fought over.  But in all of the above:

* There is no opportunity under the game rules for anyone to make such a goal and,
* There is no reasonable assumption on the part of any of the other players that someone would even think of doing such a thing.

I may be missing something in the rules, in the way rules work in actual play, or elsewhere.  However, the text in several places (especially under preventative goals) makes me think that I'm probably not missing anything.  If it is indeed the case that the social contract is the only thing that governs the narration as shown above, I am fine with that.  To paraphrase: with great narrative freedom comes great responsibility.  It just means that I will be selective in who I play with. 

Any comments on this would be greatly appreciated, especially on how you have seen this work out through real play.

One other question:

* In the example of play, the goal "Assert Authority" is described as a preventative goal in relation, I assume, to the "Get out early" goal.  However, there doesn't seem to be any relation whatsoever between these two goals from a system perspective.  Captain Liberty's player could lose out on the resolution of "Assert Authority", and yet be the resolver of "Get out early" instead of Zip's player.  Is there some way that I am missing that goals and/or events can be formally linked together, requiring the same player to be on the resolving side of both events?

* In the discussion of Pages on page 24 it states "Anyone can narrate, just as they would using an Ability, so long as it does not require rules arbitration."  How does this work in practice?  Can I back someone up and say "Whoa, there, thats going to far!" and essentially rewind the SIS to a point before they made the statement I am challenging?  And if they are the starter for that round, what prevents them, in their first action, from simply narrating the thing I am challenging anyway as part of an unrelated goal they set up using their action?  For example, someone says "I shoot the police chief." during free narration.  I say, "Hold up, I don't like that!"  We back up.  He then says, "As my first action, I will set up the goal "Make Hans weep in sorrow for the Police Chief".  My character shoots the police chief."

I can't wait to play this flipping game!  Sunday is too darn far away!
 

Hans
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Vaxalon
Member

Posts: 1619


« Reply #1 on: November 01, 2005, 12:07:55 PM »

The only limit on narration, before a conflict is resolved, is that his narration can't resolve the conflict prematurely.

Since the asteroid impact pretty much makes the bank robbery impossible (no bank, no robbers) it's not permitted.

Example two-a, where Zip neatly rewrites history while otherwise addressing the conflict... perfectly allowed.

Example two-b, where Captain Justice destroys the gymnasium, could be seen as pre-emptively resolving the "get out early" conflict, given that there's now no training to get out of.

There isn't, however, a mechanism by which anyone has specific authority to say, "Sorry, you can't do that."  It's left to the social contract level; the players as a group have to decide (by whatever means they devise to do so) to censure that narration.

At least, that's how I see it.
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dunlaing
Member

Posts: 308

My name is Bill


« Reply #2 on: November 01, 2005, 12:11:19 PM »

One limit is the Comics Code. Destroying city blocks and altering the history of the world are both things you might prohibit in your comics code.

Otherwise, I think the only limit is a social one.
A new scene is starting:
Player 1: Our intrepid heroes are all sitting in their favourite cafe having a cup of coffee.  From across the street, they all hear the banks alarm go off.  As my first action, I will create a goal: Foil Bank Robbery.
Player 2: Its my turn?  Cool.  I use my magnetic control to drag an asteroid from the asteroid belt, demolishing several city blocks, in my brash and misguided attempt to foil the bank robbery.  *rolls a die on the goal above*  A four, I'll accept.  Any reactions?
Player 3: Dude,...seriously. What the f*(k?
Player 1: Yeah, dude, are you high?
Player 2: I can narrate whatever I want.
Player 1: Yeah, but you don't have to narrate whatever you want.
Player 3: Your narration was weak. This game isn't aboot the heroes destroying city blocks. Is that the sort of thing you want the game to be aboot? I want the game to be aboot real superheroes doing real things, eh?
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dunlaing
Member

Posts: 308

My name is Bill


« Reply #3 on: November 01, 2005, 12:20:13 PM »

I'd just like to take this opportunity to apologize to Hans and to all Canadians.
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TonyLB
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« Reply #4 on: November 01, 2005, 12:22:01 PM »

That question is this:  "Won't there be absolute chaos?"

Answer:  "Not in my experience."  Alternately "Try it and find out."

There is no rule that gives you power to (as Fred, typically for him, puts it) "censure" such narration.  So if somebody wants to consistently ruin the ability of anyone (themselves included) to enjoy the story then they can do so.

Now, can you give me a sensible reason that anyone would want to do it?

When driving a car, you could deliberately swerve across the highway lane and plow into oncoming traffic, killing dozens of people (and yourself) in a fireball of destruction.  If even one percent of drivers did that (not just daily, but ever in their entire lifetimes) the road system would degenerate into utter chaos.  Does that mean that the road system is fundamentally flawed and doesn't work?  Or does it just recognize that you don't need a rule to prevent people from doing what they don't want to do?
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #5 on: November 01, 2005, 12:44:31 PM »

The asteroid, the black hole, time-travelling back to prevent World War I -- if you want 'em, you can do 'em. There is nothing to stop you. Why should there be? This is a comic book.

Does that mean "it's just a comic book, do some random silly crap, it doesn't matter"? Absolutely not. But what that means is that the physical effects of superpowers are unimportant. Think about it. No one, except a few diehards, really cares what Captain America's bullet-deflecting shield is made of, or how many kilojoules of energy Thor's hammer delivers, or how various forms of kryptonite interact with Superman's metabolism.

All the superpower stuff -- and, for that matter, the magic in myths and folklore -- is not physics, it's metaphor gone gloriously wild and none too subtle. Superpowers are expressions of character. Think about some recent movie treatments, for example. Magneto (X-Men) is cold, manipulative, and powerful, and, hardly by coincidence, his power allows him terrifyingly precise control of metal -- but nothing living; Professor X is kindly and empathetic, so his power allows him to understand what other people are thinking.Peter Parker's temporarily loses his spider-powers in the throes of stress and self-doubt in the second Spiderman movie.

Or here's a recent example of actual Capes play, from the game I'm in with Tony himself. It's a time travel game; the scene was set as the team exploring a temporal anomaly in Cold War-era Washington, D.C.; and, as a lark, we narrated how things seemed to flicker back and forth between real history and a World Communist Paradise alternative, with the Trotsky Monument blinking in and out where the Washington Monument should be and so on. I narrated in particular, just off a single dice roll, how my character suddenly split into two versions, his normal self and a Red Army alternative self. But everyone seemed to like that off-hand idea so much that, at the end of the scene, I went "what the heck" and narrated the result of "Goal: Stabilize Temporal Anomaly" to be that the Communist version of my character was one that stayed around. Why? Because my character happened to have been defined in previous sessions as a well-meaning control freak who ends up overprotecting, lying to, and tyrannizing his colleagues and family, and making him suddenly turn into a commissar without him even noticing the difference nicely underlined that point.

Again, the fate of the world here (becoming Communist) really wasn't what mattered in and of itself, any more than preventing World War I or crashing the asteroid or creating a black hole mattered in and of themselves in your hypothetical examples. The physical events only matter in so far as they express character.

So maybe the player of Asteroid-Crashing-Man is giving a big, whopping hint that this hero is a wee bit of a bull in a china shop, which should suggest to the other players that good Conflicts to introduce and earn Story Tokens off of might be "Goal: Minimize collateral damage" or "Event: Asteroid-Crashing-Man notices he's destroying the city" or "Goal: Make Asteroid-Crashing-Man feel guilty about his heavyhanded tactics."

Big fat caveat: Dropping an asteroid on the city may still be a really dumb thing to narrate -- not because it's lousy physics, but because it's lousy storytelling. If you think people in your group will be turned off by something, don't narrate it; if you narrate it and discover only then it turns them off, take it back: again, I've done just this, when I suggested my character cut off an adversary's hand and the villain's player -- Tony, actually -- said, "You just lost my interest"; "Oh," I said, "I mean she smacks her with the flat of the sword-blade." There's nothing in the Capes rules to stop you from narrating incredibly stupid stuff, which is for some people, quite legitimately, a flaw that keeps them from enoying the game; but at least the Story Token economy will give you really strong feedback as to when the other players find you too boring or lame to engage with. So that "social contract" among the group about what's cool and what's not gets reinforced with tangible rewards.
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Hans
Member

Posts: 576


« Reply #6 on: November 01, 2005, 04:35:32 PM »

One limit is the Comics Code. Destroying city blocks and altering the history of the world are both things you might prohibit in your comics code.

Otherwise, I think the only limit is a social one.
A new scene is starting:
Player 1: Our intrepid heroes are all sitting in their favourite cafe having a cup of coffee.  From across the street, they all hear the banks alarm go off.  As my first action, I will create a goal: Foil Bank Robbery.
Player 2: Its my turn?  Cool.  I use my magnetic control to drag an asteroid from the asteroid belt, demolishing several city blocks, in my brash and misguided attempt to foil the bank robbery.  *rolls a die on the goal above*  A four, I'll accept.  Any reactions?
Player 3: Dude,...seriously. What the f*(k?
Player 1: Yeah, dude, are you high?
Player 2: I can narrate whatever I want.
Player 1: Yeah, but you don't have to narrate whatever you want.
Player 3: Your narration was weak. This game isn't aboot the heroes destroying city blocks. Is that the sort of thing you want the game to be aboot? I want the game to be aboot real superheroes doing real things, eh?

This is the best answer I could hope for.  Funny, and informative.  This is pretty much what I expect would actually happen in the obviously extreme case I mentioned.  I just wanted to be able to say with absolute confidence that the rules don't prevent this kind of thing. 

Apology accepted.  :)
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Hans
Member

Posts: 576


« Reply #7 on: November 01, 2005, 04:56:13 PM »

So maybe the player of Asteroid-Crashing-Man is giving a big, whopping hint that this hero is a wee bit of a bull in a china shop, which should suggest to the other players that good Conflicts to introduce and earn Story Tokens off of might be "Goal: Minimize collateral damage" or "Event: Asteroid-Crashing-Man notices he's destroying the city" or "Goal: Make Asteroid-Crashing-Man feel guilty about his heavyhanded tactics."

Big fat caveat: Dropping an asteroid on the city may still be a really dumb thing to narrate -- not because it's lousy physics, but because it's lousy storytelling. If you think people in your group will be turned off by something, don't narrate it; if you narrate it and discover only then it turns them off, take it back: again, I've done just this, when I suggested my character cut off an adversary's hand and the villain's player -- Tony, actually -- said, "You just lost my interest"; "Oh," I said, "I mean she smacks her with the flat of the sword-blade." There's nothing in the Capes rules to stop you from narrating incredibly stupid stuff, which is for some people, quite legitimately, a flaw that keeps them from enoying the game; but at least the Story Token economy will give you really strong feedback as to when the other players find you too boring or lame to engage with. So that "social contract" among the group about what's cool and what's not gets reinforced with tangible rewards.

Another very helpful answer.  Thanks!

I should explain a bit about why I asked this question, especially in response to Tony's comment about "rules against things people don't want to do".  My normal play environment right now is in a game club that has been around for a LONG time (25 years), and many of the players are, frankly, old and crusty public forum D&D players.  This sounds like a slam, but I mean it as an endearment. Many of them have never played any other game.  However, there is a small group that are looking for something different; I won't say more, because D&D is fine for what it brings to the table.   This question is EXACTLY the first question every one of them has asked me as I have discussed Capes with them.  They have been conditioned by long years of public D&D play to, frankly, mistrust everyone when it comes to story.  They have played a long time in public forums, with a significant chance that one or more of the people in a group are serious power-trippers, who will do anything rude, mean-spirited, or generally idiotic, to get their way in a game; in many cases this player was the DM.  Its less that they themselves will become Asteroid-Crashing Man, its that they assume that everyone else will.  I didn't expect any rules to prevent Asteroid-Crashing Man, but I wanted to make sure I wasn't missing any rules along that line.

The funny thing is, I think these people are exactly the ones that once they get their minds around the basic concepts of Capes, would love it the most.  It combines the frank competitiveness they are used to enjoying, with the storytelling many have probably been fondly hoping for.

In reality, I expect the players at my table (including myself) to be incredibly timid, as opposed to horribly brash, at our first try at Capes.  I suspect the problem will be getting people to contribute at all, not people contributing annoying details.  Most players, especially players who have never been game-masters, especially D&D players who have never been DM's, probably have little experience in dramatic narration, and I'm guessing it will take time to warm up.

Thanks to you all for your answers.  It is cool to be able to ask a question, and get feedback not only from many regular, experienced players, but from his knibs the Author directly as well.  I will let you all know how the first try goes.  Should I post that to actual play, or to this forum?
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Weebles
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« Reply #8 on: January 06, 2006, 08:51:54 PM »

That question is this:  "Won't there be absolute chaos?"

Answer:  "Not in my experience."  Alternately "Try it and find out."

There is no rule that gives you power to (as Fred, typically for him, puts it) "censure" such narration.  So if somebody wants to consistently ruin the ability of anyone (themselves included) to enjoy the story then they can do so.

Now, can you give me a sensible reason that anyone would want to do it?

When driving a car, you could deliberately swerve across the highway lane and plow into oncoming traffic, killing dozens of people (and yourself) in a fireball of destruction.  If even one percent of drivers did that (not just daily, but ever in their entire lifetimes) the road system would degenerate into utter chaos.  Does that mean that the road system is fundamentally flawed and doesn't work?  Or does it just recognize that you don't need a rule to prevent people from doing what they don't want to do?


Unfortunately, I've found that some people DO find enjoyment in derailing and otherwise causing the 'destruction' of games. These are the kind of people who get a thrill from messing with people or otherwise causing distress. :(
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #9 on: January 07, 2006, 04:35:18 AM »

Then don't play games with those people.

Seriously. "I must find a game that works with all current members of my gaming group and with anyone else I know who'd like to participate, even if they have widely divergent interests, poor social skills, and borderline sociopathic tendencies" is a Geek Social Fallacy. No game has such great mechanics it can guarantee fun for any group of people, and some groups of people have such bad social dynamics that no game is going to be fun.

To get all theoretical for a minute: System Does Matter, but the most critical part of any game system is not the written rules, but the human dynamic among the real live people playing (Social Contract). Good rules can encourage and aid good behavior, but ultimately the rules are not laws of physics and they only have the power the players choose to give them (Lumpley Principle).

There's no written rule that can protect you from people who "get a thrill from messing with or otherwise causing distress." And I'm not just talking "no game rule" here, I'm talking even "no law passed by any legislature in any country": That's why written laws are always backed up by big guys with guns and truncheons. Short of physically clobbering them, the only way to deal with persistently obnoxious people is to avoid them.
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John Harper
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flip you for real


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« Reply #10 on: January 07, 2006, 04:42:31 PM »

Hans has already been given several great answers, but I thought I'd share anyway.

"Capes doesn't have a rule that stops silly/stupid/upsetting narration!"
"Neither does D&D."

When was the last time the DM dropped an asteroid on the party and killed them all? He's certainly allowed to, as far as the rules are concerned. Why doesn't he? What would the players say if he did? There's your answer.
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