Doctor Chaos Thoughts and Questions

Started by jburneko, January 21, 2011, 10:42:54 PM

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So, I might have a chance to play Doctor Chaos this weekend and if I don't then I'm thinking of putting it on the schedule at OrcCon in February.  This thread:

I think cleared up some of the murkier points of play-test text.  But there's a couple of points I want to visit in more detail.

Thing 1:

According to the thread above when we're down to the make or break Condition the hero's need only score a "Delay" for the whole plan to fail.  They don't actually need a full Defeat.  However the current playtest text uses the phrase, "and a delay doesn't change much."  The text makes it sound like if you only Delay the final Condition then you go into a sort of Episode Overtime (i.e. keep playing new Episodes with that one Condition) until a decisive Defeat or Complete is earned.

This seems like an interesting point in the rules.  On the one hand going into Episode Overtime could get tedious.  On the other hand only requiring a Delay seems to undermine the idea that you need developed heroes if you want to defeat Dr. Chaos.  Or is there something subtle going on narratively that I'm not getting from the text alone? 

Thing 2:

I'm not sure to what extent heroes can "develop" mid-Episode and who can bring that content into play.  I'll call this the Aunt May problem and use Spider-Man as an example.  So when a player introduces a new hero he just gives the hero a name and basic look right?  So the player says something like, "This is Spider-Man.  He's got a webbed suit with a spider on his chest." And that's what we've got to work with.  At what point does Aunt May enter the game?  Can Dr. Chaos's player say, "My jack booted forces storm the local suburban neighborhood and drag a woman from a home.  It's Spider-Man's Aunt!"  Basically, Dr. Chaos's player invents a personal relationship as part of his attack.  Can the Spider-Man player say, "Spider-Man looks up and see that among the war-prisoner's is his Aunt May!"  In this case, some war-prisoner's must have been narrated into the fiction and Spider-Man's player is detailing one of them to be Aunt May.  Remember, I'm saying this as an example where Spider-Man and Aunt May have simply not existed until this point.

I ask this because I'm not sure how these "soap opera" elements are intended to enter play if the players are restricted largely to in-the-moment, forward moving narration from (mostly) their current character's perspective.  I can see that happening at the development stage for a hero but since development has to be linked to the nature of humiliating defeat I don't quite since how these kinds of elements come into play without being present in some form BEFORE the humiliating defeat that generates them.

It's also possible that I'm thinking about this too much from the perspective of Doctor Chaos causing problems for the Hero's lives when this game is meant to be the other way around.



Ron Edwards

Hi Jesse,

I figure it's best to go over the rules first and then see if anything's left to cover. I'll do the easy one first (thing 2).

Heroes do not develop mid-Episode. Nor does the Doctor Chaos player ("Game Master") have anything to do with it. A hero may return developed after being defeated by Doctor Chaos in a previous episode, and it's that simple. A hero is defeated in an episode. Some other player brings him or her back in a later episode, in developed form. The nature of the development is dramatized by that player. And that's all there is to it.

None of your examples is valid play. The hero in this case is undeveloped and no personal aspects are involved, period.

Here's something to make it easier to think about, which your final sentence is aiming at anyway. Say I bring in Spider-Man, just as you describe, so all there is is, "This is Spider-Man.  He's got a webbed suit with a spider on his chest." Now, fictionally speaking, maybe this is Peter Parker and his Uncle Ben is dead and he lives with his Aunt May. But that would be Spider-Man's comic book. Fuck that noise. This is Doctor Chaos' game.* He doesn't know from Aunt May. He doesn't give a fuck. All he knows is that this Spider-Goob just popped out of apparently nowhere in an annoying fashion.

So look at it this way: development means that we went and looked in the hero's own comic book. Until then, we didn't.

Another way to look at it is that the Green Goblin is only, and ever, a lesser villain.

As for thing 1, well, it's a playtest issue. The current design does go into "Condition over and over overtime," and I'm not sure whether that's a good thing. Shifting to "Delay is enough," well, developed heroes sure would make it easier anyway. It's not a subtle issue at all. I simply need to know how the options play. (And playtesters need to know that the design is still iffy at this point, and not to get all bent out of shape about it.)

Regarding your upcoming playtest, the single biggest mechanics issues concern the lesser villain. We should probably talk about that too.

Best, Ron

* Not "his comic book." That's too confusing for us. Never mind what comic this is in; it's Doctor Chaos' game and leave it at that.


Okay, let's talk about the lesser villain.  So the current text says that at the top of the Episode the villain picks ONE these:

1) Oppose Dr. Chaos's current Condition
2) Pursue his own Condition
3) Help Dr. Chaos fullfill his current Condition.

The lesser villain is also in one of two states: Controlled or Not-Controlled by Dr. Chaos.

So let's go one at a time.

Oppose Dr. Chaos and Not Contolled

The interesting thing about this case is this question: Can a hero still choose to "oppose" the lesser villain?  Simple answer: No.  More complex answer: I think there is some interesting narrative opportunity here.   He's trying to help and these heroes STILL get in his face about something.  A misunderstanding?  Ideological objection to his methods?

So what would it mean if the Lesser Villain beats Dr. Chaos but one or more heroes opposing the Lesser Villain beats him?  His "victory" doesn't count?  Something else?

There's this odd line in the text that reads, "(and remember their melds count with is anyway)".  Does that include this case?  If it does then how can the Lesser Villain ever beat Dr. Chaos since his cards will always be Lesser Villains + His Own?

Oppose Dr. Chaos and Controlled

Same issues as above.  I'm also assuming that success on the part of the villain means he breaks control.

In this case does Doctor Chaos get the Lesser's Villains Deadwood for this Episode no matter whether the villain successfully breaks control or not?

Pursue his own Condition and Not-Controlled

Is Doctor Chaos always assumed to be opposing the Lesser Villains Condition?  Is there no way for Doctor Chaos to *aid* the Lesser Villain?  Or what if fictionally, Doctor Chaos never addressed the Lesser Villain's actions.
What if no-one opposes the Lesser Villain? This is a good case for assuming that Dr. Chaos is always by default both capable and willing to oppose the Lesser Villain.  Otherwise the Lesser Villain can end up narrating a little caper on the side and his cards don't end up meaning anything.

It seems like it might still end up like that.  How much action can Doctor Chaos narrate?  At a table of five with three heroes and lesser villain that's a lot to address only once every five turns.  Especially if all three heroes go for Doctor Chaos and ignore the villain.

A (minor) issue here is that I think your current playtest draft is out of sync between what the villain can do at the start of the Episode and the summary of the victory conditions.  The three choices are currently listed as exclusive.  The Lesser Villain can only do ONE.  But the text for the lesser villain victory says, "strive toward his own Condition or oppose Doctor Chaos's current Condition or *both*"  How can he do both if he has to pick or the other at the top of the Episode.
What happens if the Lesser Villain's Plan succeeds?  Does he just continue choosing between the other two options or does something else happen?  Since the Lesser Villain's Plan is described as being incompatible with Doctor Chaos's Plan I'm assuming that Doctor Chaos is simply great enough to work around this point much like having one of his own Conditions defeated.

Pursue his own Condition and Contolled

I'm assuming that Hero and Doctor Chaos victories are evaluated independently.  Such that it's possible for the Lesser Villain to break control from Doctor Chaos but have his Condition thwarted by a Hero.
Join Doctor Chaos and Not Controlled

The text reads, "The lesser villain is released from Doctor Chaos' control if that was a stated goal earlier in the Episode; in this case, the lesser villain's cards do not support Doctor Chaos' cards."  I'm assuming that second phrase applies whether or not The Lesser Villain is actually controled.

Join Doctor Chaos and Controlled

Again the text reads, "The lesser villain is released from Doctor Chaos' control if that was a stated goal earlier in the Episode..."  So if a Hero isn't actively trying to break control then The Lesser Villain remains controlled even if a Hero beats him.  Correct?

I think that covers everything.


Ron Edwards

Hi Jesse,

The trouble is that I cannot have this conversation while trying to keep a handle on what the current text says. This is a game in the deep throes of design-heavy playtesting. The text is, at this point, a distinct third place behind raw design and raw playtest. Whatever it says, I'm basically saying, ignore that and somehow try to curb your intense legalism-clarity-critical tendencies. It doesn't matter what it says - the text is flotsam and jetsam left behind from the storms of designs, and full of legacy from previous drafts that failed to get deleted or made consistent when I changed something else.

Here's what I can tell you about my current thoughts on the lesser villain, broken down just as you describe. Again, if you find the stray line or two in the text, or even a well-developed paragraph, which seems to contradict any of this, your job is to forget it. The text has zero authority in this discussion.

Oppose Doctor Chaos, not controlled
I now think the lesser villain be treated exactly as a hero in this case, including Doctor Chaos' cards counting against his. But he does not combine melds with any other character. If a hero opposes the villain in this case, then the hero's cards are not used against Doctor Chaos.

Oppose Doctor Chaos, controlled
If the villain succeeds, his cards do not get used in Doctor Chaos' favor and are in fact treated as if the villain were not controlled, up to and including fulfilling a Condition for the lesser villain if the narration makes sense in that direction. Also, his success over Doctor Chaos is treated exactly as if a hero had done it, as a blow against Doctor Chaos' current Condition. If he fails, his cards do count in Doctor Chaos' favor.

Pursue Condition, not controlled
This one all depends on whether a hero is opposing the villain. Doctor Chaos does not bother with such things. If no one opposes the villain, then his Condition is fulfilled. If someone does, then the ordinary rules apply. (Note that the cards don't mean anything in the episode, but they mean a lot in the bigger picture, via omission. A villain who does this a lot is risking gaining his or her own Plan, then watching it all get steamrolled later because he made it easier for Doctor Chaos to win. Suffice to say that the Green Goblin sn't going to like living under Doctor Doom's thumb, even if he did get to kill Peter Parker a couple of months earlier.)

Note: lesser villain actions which can be construed as both opposing Doctor Chaos and pursuing his own goals are legal and I think I accounted for all the possibilities.

Pursue his own Condition, controlled
As described above, this is synonymous with "Oppose Doctor Chaos, controlled"

I've decided to jettison all considerations of a hero trying to break a villain free from Doctor Chaos' control. This is the lesser villain player's game, when all is said and done.

Aid Doctor Chaos, not controlled
In this case, the lesser villain's cards are simply treated as oppositional to the heroes' cards and do not add in any way to Doctor Chaos' cards - except that beating a hero means negating that hero's victory over Doctor Chaos, if there was one.

Aid Doctor Chaos, controlled
Simplest of all. The lesser villain's cards aid Doctor Chaos' cards, end of story.

As you can see, all of the above make the lesser villain more of a power-player in the saga, as intended. Let me know if it seems to you that I left anything out.

Best, Ron


Hey Ron,

I totally get that the playtest document is in flux.  My questions were not a criticism of the obviously work-in-progress text but rather highlighting points where I think legacy versions were clashing
with new thinking and I was trying to figure out which stuff was old and what stuff was new so that when I play it I know which side to err on.

I think my biggest confusion about the lesser villain was that it seemed like he had to constantly choose between opposing Doctor Chaos's current Condition or pursue his own Condition.  It was either/or and never both.  But from what you've said here it seems like it's much more subject to fictional context.  If in the pursuit of his own Condition he is also clearly opposing Doctor Chaos's Condition then that's legal too.

I think this ties in a lot without how the opening narration of an Episode work.  Does the player announce which option he's choosing and then describe his character's action?  Or are those options purposeful direction which are not necessarily ever "chosen" and announced.  For the latter I'm thinking about how The Drifter's Escape instructs the The Devil player to try and make the drifter serve his interests and the The Man players to try and make the drifter more like him.  But at no point are the players called on to announce or justify their contributions in those terms.


Ron Edwards

Hi Jesse,

Yes, the original notion was that the lesser villain was either focused on his plan or on Doctor Chaos' plan, for yes or no. Plus trying to break control was an isolated action.  But playtesting has shown that all this really disempowers that character, so I've restored flexibility, which oddly simplifies the mechanics.

This game is the opposite from The Drifter's Escape, in terms of meaning and announcements. It's explicitly rules-up-front, so the lesser villain player starts with something like, "I'm seeking my Condition and opposing Doctor Chaos," and then says how. If we'd done that in my most recent playtest, then Doctor Chaos would not have succeeded in his first Episode.

Best, Ron