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Author Topic: Mysteries in Capes  (Read 3014 times)
drnuncheon
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Posts: 155

Some call me Jeff


« on: February 23, 2006, 02:13:14 PM »

So we settled on Capes as the system for our upcoming supernatural detectives game (blogged here).  It struck me on the way in to work this morning, though, that the traditional role of detectives is in solving a mystery, and that traditional mystery play has the GM doling out cluebiscuits when the players perform to his expectations, until they have enough to solve whatever is going on.

Obviously, Capes doesn't allow for that sort of play.  Good, it was getting kind of stale for us anyway.  Nothing's more frustrating (for either side) than trying to read the GMs mind while he's fuming "It's so obvious, how can you not get it?"

...yeah, been on both sides of that.

So how would you do a good mystery in Capes?  Who's done it before?  Anyone have any advice? Are there any good APs to check out?  I've got some ideas that I will put up in a separate reply after I get home...
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Vaxalon
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Posts: 1619


« Reply #1 on: February 23, 2006, 02:23:31 PM »

Remember that you're not solving a mystery, you're telling a mystery story.

Introduce goals and events that are the typical things that happen in mystery stories.  "Someone finds a clue" as an event means that noone can find a clue until it's resolved.  "Someone figures out who the culprit is" is another good one.
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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!"
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Zamiel
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« Reply #2 on: February 23, 2006, 02:44:07 PM »

Introduce goals and events that are the typical things that happen in mystery stories.  "Someone finds a clue" as an event means that no one can find a clue until it's resolved.  "Someone figures out who the culprit is" is another good one.
Except for the fact that those Conflicts can be dropped on the table from Scene one, which breaks the traditional mystery story into little bitty pieces.

Myself, I think those Conflicts are just too broad. It shouldn't be "Goal: Someone finds a clue," it should be "Goal: Someone finds the murder weapon," or "Event: Luminol reveals blood stains." This way, you extend the actual sub-components of the story out over multiple Scenes and it becomes far more reasonable to use earlier Scenes and the resources gained thereby to influence later ones. Using your suggested Conflicts, there's just insufficient context to make them meaningful in the greater sense and too little real meat to make a story fall out.

(Nothing keeps someone from introducing "Event: Dabney discovers the butler did it," as Scene one, Conflict one, but Capes is good in that just discovering it doesn't make it necessarily true, and such a boring Conflict won't give much in the way of reward because other Players can't get any leverage from it.)
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Capes: This Present Darkness, Dragonstaff
TonyLB
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« Reply #3 on: February 23, 2006, 02:59:55 PM »

You can successfully discover who the real murderer is in scene one (not any of the "I discover evidence that convinces me", but the actual "This is what really happened, it's spelled out in the stakes" guarantee).  If you do that then that obviously isn't the question, right?  Because the story keeps on going.

So, for instance, maybe you end up with something like Alfred Bester's Demolished Man where the telepathic detective learns the murderer's guilt within seconds of meeting him, and the rest of the book is them jockeying in a war about whether or not he can prove it (as TP without a warrant isn't admissible in court).

I've seen a lot of people worry that Capes lets them say "This, that and the other thing ... and so the story is over in the first scene!"  My response is this:  "But the story isn't over.  Gandalf threw the One Ring in the fireplace, where it melted, destroying Sauron.  So now what's the next conflict?"
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Just published: Capes
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Zamiel
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« Reply #4 on: February 23, 2006, 04:31:49 PM »

You can successfully discover who the real murderer is in scene one (not any of the "I discover evidence that convinces me", but the actual "This is what really happened, it's spelled out in the stakes" guarantee).  If you do that then that obviously isn't the question, right?  Because the story keeps on going.

But now we're pointedly not talking about what people think of when they think of a mystery story. It may still be a good story, but its a different kind of good story. And unless the Players are prepared to deal with that essential difference, whether it be to police themselves to channel Scenes more traditionally or to explore the results of following this new, different pathway that's not traditional mystery-play.

This is one of the big reasons that it helps to be all on the same page once you start a game with that kind of semi-specific subgenre focus. As long as everyone has a pretty good idea of how things should go, you can expect that to be the way things do go.
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Blogger, game analyst, autonomous agent architecture engineer.
Capes: This Present Darkness, Dragonstaff
drnuncheon
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Posts: 155

Some call me Jeff


« Reply #5 on: February 23, 2006, 05:56:21 PM »

Introduce goals and events that are the typical things that happen in mystery stories.  "Someone finds a clue" as an event means that noone can find a clue until it's resolved.  "Someone figures out who the culprit is" is another good one.

That's a good idea, and it ties in.  My main worry with something like that is that, unless you have two players with pretty strong ideas about what they want the clue to be, you may not get the good conflict that Capes requires - as opposed to a conflict where both sides have a desire to wind up with control.  That is to say, the players might be invested in the outcome of the conflict (and thus not want to have the success "given" to them), but not in controlling the outcome (which is to say, deciding what it is they find).

I might be borrowing trouble here, actually - I don't think we had any problems with any of us stepping up to the plate in our test run.

And, the thought strikes me that if the conflict is a Goal rather than an Event, then you can get the opposition if one person is playing the part of the perpetrator.  Even absent, he can use his abilities to hide his tracks.  I'm kind of picturing something like one of the scenes with Willem DaFoe's FBI agent in The Boondock Saints, where he's spinning his theory and then we see what really happened.
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drnuncheon
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Posts: 155

Some call me Jeff


« Reply #6 on: February 23, 2006, 06:35:13 PM »

You can successfully discover who the real murderer is in scene one (not any of the "I discover evidence that convinces me", but the actual "This is what really happened, it's spelled out in the stakes" guarantee).  If you do that then that obviously isn't the question, right?  Because the story keeps on going.

But now we're pointedly not talking about what people think of when they think of a mystery story. It may still be a good story, but its a different kind of good story.

I see what Tony was getting at here, I think, and so this is actually not so much what I was worried about.  After all, Events can be vetoed by anyone, so "Event: The murderer is discovered" is only going to hit the table if everyone thinks its a good idea - and if everybody does then its all good.

I can think of roughly a jillion ways to keep a mystery going, even if the goal "Figure out whodunit" is the first thing to hit the table.  There's always why to consider, after all, and if the why turns out to be "The perp was being blackmailed/manipulated/mind controlled/was an evil alternate universe version of the real person who was smart enough to shave his goatee" then you've got all kinds of possibilities.

J
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TonyLB
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« Reply #7 on: February 23, 2006, 08:29:07 PM »

But now we're pointedly not talking about what people think of when they think of a mystery story. It may still be a good story, but its a different kind of good story.

Very true.

I've been thinking about this one.  I'll share a technique I've used in my Alien Invasion con-game to structure things in a more linear fashion:  a progressive Comics Code.

The Comics Code in "Invasion" starts out as follows:

  • 1. The invasion cannot be slowed, or invaders progress hindered
  • 2. Invaded area cannot be retaken.  Invaders cannot be killed.
  • 3. The Invaders home base may not be assaulted.  The Invasion may not be reversed.
  • 4. Heroes cannot be killed.
  • 5. Innocent bystanders cannot be killed en masse.
  • 6. Innocent bystanders cannot be killed due to hero action or inaction.

The first scene all those comics codes apply.  Then, before the second scene, I cross out #1 and #6.  Then for the next scene I cross out #2 and #5.  Then for the final scene I remove all the opportunities to gloat.  Anything can happen.

Similarly, you could structure a mystery by having a comics code of:

  • 1. The exact method of the murder cannot be known with certainty.
  • How the murderer gained their opportunity cannot be known with certainty.
  • The motive for murder cannot be known with certainty.
  • The identity of the murderer cannot be revealed.

Then you could remove those restrictions, one by one.

The fun thing about this is that people can gain story tokens by going to the brink of solving the mystery early, and then using the Gloating rules.  They can put forth the perfect explanation of the murder, only to find that their suspect has an air-tight alibi.  Back to the drawing board!
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Zamiel
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« Reply #8 on: February 24, 2006, 03:41:03 PM »

I've been thinking about this one.  I'll share a technique I've used in my Alien Invasion con-game to structure things in a more linear fashion:  a progressive Comics Code.

...

The fun thing about this is that people can gain story tokens by going to the brink of solving the mystery early, and then using the Gloating rules.  They can put forth the perfect explanation of the murder, only to find that their suspect has an air-tight alibi.  Back to the drawing board!

That's brilliant. A related idea had occured to me with a pliant Comics Code, but one that directly shifts tied to a timeline really puts things into a more constrained architecture. The foreknowledge of how the Code will change as things go is crucial, though. The Players need to be aware of where the story is going and approximately when so that they both know what can occur, but about when they'll get the opportunity.

I might be tempted to structure the progression in terms of "issues," with one Issue being a full cycle of Scene starts for each Player. Every Issue starts with some essential change in the Code which then manifests in the ensuing Scenes.
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Blogger, game analyst, autonomous agent architecture engineer.
Capes: This Present Darkness, Dragonstaff
Vaxalon
Member

Posts: 1619


« Reply #9 on: February 26, 2006, 05:45:07 AM »

Damn, Tony.  The eroding comics code is brilliant.  That's gotta go into any new editions you put together.
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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
John Harper
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« Reply #10 on: February 26, 2006, 10:19:02 PM »

Agreed. It's the perfect solution to many so-called "problems" people see in Capes at first glance. And it also gives another tool for genre-emulation to those that want it. Excellent mechanic.
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dunlaing
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Posts: 308

My name is Bill


« Reply #11 on: February 27, 2006, 07:13:55 AM »

If you want a less hardcoded formula, you could set it up so that after each scene, (or toward the end of the scene), players can compete on a goal of "Change one of the comics code tenets."
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Hans
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Posts: 576


« Reply #12 on: February 27, 2006, 12:44:51 PM »

You can successfully discover who the real murderer is in scene one (not any of the "I discover evidence that convinces me", but the actual "This is what really happened, it's spelled out in the stakes" guarantee).  If you do that then that obviously isn't the question, right?  Because the story keeps on going.

But now we're pointedly not talking about what people think of when they think of a mystery story. It may still be a good story, but its a different kind of good story. And unless the Players are prepared to deal with that essential difference, whether it be to police themselves to channel Scenes more traditionally or to explore the results of following this new, different pathway that's not traditional mystery-play.
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Hans
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« Reply #13 on: February 27, 2006, 12:55:43 PM »

Doh!  It helps to actually type something before you hit the post button.  And after I reread the other posts, I realized I didn't really have anything to say, other than cool idea, Tony, on the eroding code.
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