[Capes] Gamism and Narrativism

Started by Eero Tuovinen, July 14, 2009, 07:19:06 AM

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Callan S.

Quote from: Melinglor on July 14, 2009, 08:19:10 PMI'm just saying that when one wishes to disrupt, it's always possible to invoke the activity's procedures as a cover
Equally it's also possible to imply someone has the intent to disrupt when they merely wanted to play the game/follow the procedure. Such implications can be a form of (more sublime) bullying by the person implying bullying. It's worth remembering before rushing to say someone was a jerk for using X rule.

Joel P. Shempert

Well, for that we'd have to examine the instances of supposed bullying. I'll leave that to those who have reported it.
Story by the Throat! Relentlessly pursuing story in roleplaying, art and life.

Eero Tuovinen

Agreed with Joel - I believe that functional gamism in Capes is possible, I just haven't encountered it myself. I imagine that it would be quite crucial, as he says, that the group would appreciate the in-fiction gains and defeats of the characters, with some character ownership on a per-scene basis at least.

As for bullying, I don't particularly mean to accuse anybody of anything, I'm just trying to describe something I imagine I'm seeing in certain games that provide players with narrative power. It's a sort of reward mechanism where the player feels like he's achieving something in direct relation to how much he's pissing in the other guy's oats; Capes especially actually explicitly does reward this, but it can work in other games as well if the player comes to see this behavior as his only way of participating meaningfully in the game. I only get this in games like Capes that explicitly encourage player autonomy in the choices they make; it disappears if you have a GM or group authority directly and immediately judging and vetoing behavior they don't understand or appreciate. It's sort of like putting a Gamism-focused player on the wheel of Narrativistic adversity tasks, and ending up with something that certainly is adversity, but not to the characters, but for the players who are trying very hard to appreciate and take into consideration the disruptive content the other player is offering.
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Bret Gillan

May I nudge this thread into the realm of more actual play? Maybe specific examples from Eero since his original posts are providing the meat of the discussion? Eero, you're talking about a lot of the things you've seen at the table in vagueries but I'd really appreciate some specifics about the bullying and how the game was rewarding it at the table.

Joel P. Shempert

Seconded. Though Alan's also asked for some time to collect his thoughts and post about his experiences.
Story by the Throat! Relentlessly pursuing story in roleplaying, art and life.


Story Then?

The Capes game at Go Play NW had four players. Joel (Melinglor) taught the rules and facilitated the games. Normally, all characters in Capes are up for grabs between scenes, but we decided to each have one player character.

Joe Rage (Joel)
Villain powered by rage. His template was strong man and regular joe. Joel created a friend now parapalegic due to corporate mistreatment as an examplar for one of his drives.

Dr. Steel (Alan)
Puppetmaster/Gagdeteer. Villain from a small former Soviet who sees his homeland continue to suffer under industrial exploitation. He's in the US trying to build a power base. His brother is a US Senator trying to help the homeland through legal means.

Hyperion (Matthew S-B)
Godling/strongguy[?] Hero. In his miild mannered alter ego, he works at BioTech Inc. and has a crush on his supervisor Kitty.

The Tornado (Daniel?)
Elemental control and ?
I forgot the details of this hero.

The game began with Joe Rage breaking into BioTech and Joel created the conflict "Joe gets to the CEO's office." Alerted by the disturbance, Hyperion slipped away to assume his super identity. Then it turned out that Agent 9, one of Dr. Steel's minions had infiltrated during the chaos. Conflict: "Get the new secret prototype from the lab."

We battled over these conflicts, used powers, and incurred debt. At one point, Joel narrrated how the CEO got interested in Joe Rage. I bet some of Dr Steel's debt on Agent 9's conflict and lost, getting back double the debt. Meanwhile, Hyperion invested debt in stopping Joe and won. Both Joel and I earned story tokens from that.

Now Joe turned his rage on the building itself, creating the conflict: "Bring down the building." Dr. Steel, who was about to retreat, halted to reinforce Joe's effort with some gadgetry. Joel and I used our story tokens to take extra turns that ensured we brought down the building and got rid of some of our debt (thus giving the other two players story tokens). We ended there and Joel narrated how the CEO walked away, planning to contact Joe Rage, a nice reincorporation that gave it a good sense of ending.

As for CA, I can only comment that I was wrapped up in expressing some basic attributes of Dr. Steel and his style of conflict (remote manipulator) and I suppose I could have initiated a second conflict as Joel did, but was originally satisfied to see Dr. Steel regroup for another day. The Joel provided an opportunity for a satisfying boom--which Dr. Steel could achieve by indirect means through Joe Rage. That was what I found satisfying. Is that approaching Story Now? It certainly felt more like my experience of Nine Worlds than Old School D&D.

Step On Up!

Which brings me to compare an instance of play in the Swords and Wizardry game Wil (Rafial) ran that same weekend. In old school philosophy, one doesn't roll dice to disarm a trap, instead the player applies their own ingenuity to disarming it.

We had entered a treasure room through a broken roof, essentially entering against the direction the trap was designed for. We found a coridor leaving the room full of sliced goblin corpses. The party declared a closer look at the corridor walls and found large slits that might extrude scything blades. My thief stepped forward and I declared looking at the floor on the way to the corridor. The GM said I found a large pressure plate essentially _inside_ the room, starting at the threshhold. This plate was positioned to allow victims to approach down the corridor and get scythed the moment someone stepped into the room we occupied. At first we thought we'd have to make rolls to jump the plate, but I visualized this and realized there had to be an easy way to step diagonally over the pressure plate, from the room into the corridor and after confirming my understanding with Wil, I declared it an action.

I was safe. I crept down the corridor until a turn and saw a door at the end of the turn. I remembered ny favorite trap from back in the day -- a door at the end of an l-shape that trigged a hail of arrows from the elbow of the turn. So I describe turning around to inspect the wall facing the door. Wil said I found a loose brick. This turned out to be the safety lock that stopped the scything blades. Ta Da! Garolous the Theif Earns His Xp!

I felt very good about that -- about my own performance in overcoming the challenge. Totally different reward from Capes.
- Alan

A Writer's Blog: http://www.alanbarclay.com

Joel P. Shempert

Thanks for sharing that, Alan. It tells me a lot more about your experience of the game. As I said, playing a game with strangers made it harder to get a read on everyone's play priorities. I'd like to respectfully suggest that your gameplay contributions, including the reward you expressed, don't look like Story Now. I didn't see any answering of troublesome human questions through play. Though the potential was built into the character (the tension between him and his Senator brother over methods), that didn't really come out in our session. Instead, I see a strong pursuit of Right To Dream, in your being "wrapped up in expressing some basic attributes" of the character. It was clearly a joy for you to show how thoroughly shadowy and hands-off Doctor Steel was in his machinations. I'll describe the game moment that really drove that home for me:

We had been proceeding merrily with the conflict of Joe's assault while you made deft use of the game's ability to let characters affect conflicts from afar--a natural for a Puppet Master. So all your actions had been through Steel's henchman on the scene. . .but when the lackey had gotten in considerable trouble, Doctor Steel declared "It's time to take a more direct approach," lifted off in his powered armor from his hidden lair, and rocketed toward the BioTech building--to hover over the building out of sight and continue to direct matters remotely. Which totally surprised me: I was expecting a dramatic entrance from Commie Doctor Doom. but I didn't know until then how much you were invested in expressing Steel's hands-off-ness. That moment was a big lightbulb for me, but I was hesitant to declare anything until you'd shared your experience of it.

By contrast, pursuing Story now with the good Doctor would probably have entailed putting his presence out into the story at some point, to express his particular beliefs and issues, so that they could be put on the line and tested. What he cares about wasn't at stake in an emotionally vulnerable way. he DID challenge what other (hero) characters care about, which is an important Story Now role, and it was in the struggles of those characters that I saw the faint glimmers of Story Now payoff. But as you express, your focus was more on "Revealing the Character," in the sense of fully expressing his traits and showing their inherent coolness--"See, he doesn't even get his hands dirty!" Very right To Dream.

But! As Ron has been saying in Gamism and Narrativism: Mutually Exclusive, one person's priority does not a Creative Agenda make. In practice I'd say our play was either Right To Dream with some supportive elements of classic superhero issues, or just straight-up incoherent, with both RtD and SN agendas competing. Since it was an enjoyable game without noticeable frustration from clashing agendas I'm inclined to say it was RtD. For myself, I tend to always make a Capes villain with strong Story Now potential, then see which way the wind blows, pursuing that agenda to whatever degree the play group supports it. If they don't, then as I said the thematic elements simply become an undergirding for another agenda.

So where does that leave us with the question of Creative Agenda in Capes? Well, I'd say that Capes gives you great tools for putting what characters care about on the line. This provides great fodder for Story Now play grounded in intense struggle, and also allows players to Step on Up to compete mercilessly over that same ground. Basically doing the same thing with different focus of emotional investment. I don't think the crux of fun and functional Step on up with Capes lies in "competing for story control" per se, but in the subtly different (and overlapping) arena of "which characters achieve their goals." The difference is that players are still very much invested in the characters in the sense of advocating for them and addressing their issues directly, not just pushing them around like pawns or tugging on them like prizes.

Meanwhile, Capes does also give players neat tools to "fully express the character" Right to dream style, as Alan did. The Abilities one invokes from powers and Persona are vivid and lively, and you can pull all kinds of neat tricks like Doctor Steel's "directing from afar." But ultimately using the tools this way is overwhelmed by the more confrontational framework--sooner or later, you're going to have to put yourself on the line in a Conflict, or the game falls flat. Alan, your tack with the Doctor worked fine for one player/character, but the game would have stalled out if everyone did it.


Story by the Throat! Relentlessly pursuing story in roleplaying, art and life.


Thanks Joel,

Now that you put it that way, I actually see the session as an incomplete reward cycle.

I didn't give a damn about the Right To Dream. I created an exemplar, a US Congressman (or Senator), who was trying to help the homeland through legal means. I chose that because it conflicted with the Dr's approach and gave me a Premise to play around. I made decisions about Dr Steel based on the thematic axis of overt/covert, authoritarian/democratic. I really wanted a conflict that involved the exemplar but no one pulled him out and so much was going on that I never suggested it. I did the next best thing: set events in place that would intensify Dr. Steel's eventual encounter with his brother in a hypothetical future session. That would have rocked!
- Alan

A Writer's Blog: http://www.alanbarclay.com


Hi again Joel,

I just remember the two moments I most liked, aside from bringing down the building -- they both happened in the epilogue you narrated 1) Hyperion's girlfriend chewing him out for being reckless and destructive in his pursuit of justice, and 2) BioTech CEO slinking away with plans to track down and ally with one of the villains. If we were continuing play, I'd say we should have played 1) as a conflict in the next issue. The second just promised potential conflict.

I think no clear CA emerged because of the limited time to engage all the game mechanisms. No CA, though, doesn't mean we default to Right to Dream--we defaulted to Exploration, with each of us discovering the game mechanics and how they might support a CA we liked. I certainly saw the tools for driving play toward Story Now. My feeling is that the Capes design is too complex to promote the emergence of a specific CA in a single session played by newcomers to the rules. The complexity and the fact that some kind of play is possible with an incomplete application of the rules probably makes it easy to drift too.
- Alan

A Writer's Blog: http://www.alanbarclay.com

Callan S.

That's kind of what I was wondering before - if no nar was going on (perhaps in a future session it might have)? When I said
QuoteThese capes accounts seem to be primordial gamism, probably rising up either because the person has no interest in nar (which I think is rare - everyone kind of likes soap opera) or...perhaps a hard option to look at, they detected no nar stuff going on at the table. They only detected people making stories - and stories can be part of all agendas.
It's not that capes is gamist facilitating, it's that there was no nar going on. And they defaulted to a primordial gamism for something to actually do.

Joel P. Shempert

OK, incomplete reward cycle. I can buy that, Alan, you make a strong case. Everything you"re talking about makes sense in that context, and I can certainly see the next "issue" being all about Doctor Steel and his familial rift. That's a definite hazard of a con game--it may not be possible to get in a complete cycle if Situation is paced out for a swath of scenes. I'd submit that in such an environment if you want something addressed, you gotta put it out, and NOW. There ain't gonna be a later.

I have had some success with two-scene Capes sessions though, where the first establishes the cast and relationships and sets up the simmering conflicts (usually with a lot of civilian-identity characters), then the second is a titanic battle with the heroes and villains to resolve anything. But it requires a wee bit more timeframe than we had at Go Play.

Y'know, I'd love to see a check-in from the earlier posters in the thread with their take on the conversation.


PS  I'd like to point out that I wasn't claiming any CA by "default." In fact I wasn't talking about a functioning Creative Agenda at all--I was positing that a CA failed to congeal because your priorities were Right to Dream and others' were Story Now. Your proposal of "Story Now, but incomplete reward cycle" is an acceptable alternate theory though.
Story by the Throat! Relentlessly pursuing story in roleplaying, art and life.

Jasper Flick

Incomplete reward cycles make a lot of sense. I guess a Gamist reward cycle is able to be achieved the soonest and easiest. If you shoot for it instantly and win the first conflict, you have completed a small cycle already. If you lost it after putting up a good fight, you now got story tokens, so then you have a reward too. There's no time required to get up to speed, you can jump in full throttle from the get go.
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