Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Playing Capes: Mayhem in the Museum

I went to Ubercon in New Jersey this last weekend to run full-session demos of indie games. Our first real session of play was on Friday night, when another scheduled game failed to go off, Russell Collins and I played Capes with a globe-trotting Australian (he had scheduled a stopover in the tri-state area specifically so he could come to the convention).

Our Australian friend was a good-natured and enthusiastic player, and after the first turn he quickly grasped the Capes mechanics and was soon playing like a pro. I believe this was Russell's first time playing Capes (although I may be wrong). I have played it several times in demos, taught the rules to several people, and run a full session with a couple of friends. This was, however, the first time the rules really clicked for me.I think the reason for this was that I had finally gotten to a comfort level with the rules to allow them to fade a bit into the background, and although I was pursuing conflicts that I wanted to win, as well as introducing conflicts with the express purpose of earning story tokens, I was also engaged with what was happening in the SIS. My previous play experiences had ended up very mechanistic, and I had some trouble engaging with the characters in any way in previous sessions. Interestingly, I think it has a lot to do with the play styles of those sitting across from you. In order to really enjoy this game, you have to equally enjoy the superhero story you are creating along with enjoying the game aspects of the mechanics, such as earning story tokens, getting rid of debt, and earning inspirations.

The basic profile of the game was two villains (me and the Australian) and one hero (Russell). I set the scene as a museum opening with all the leading lights of the city in attendance. My character was a Mind-Reader/Seducer, up against the hero Shapeshifter/Hotshot. Another villain, a Teleporter/Older-but-Wiser, was there as well. One of the things that made the three-way work so well was the fact that neither villain had the same goals in the scene. The teleporter was working some angle to replace the mayor of the city, while my mind reader was trying to lift a jewel from the opening. The two villains working against one another is what allowed the sole hero to be effective in the scene.

My favorite moment, however, was when the Australian, having earlier been thwarted in his Goal: Get the mayor to resign, won a conflict Event: The wall collapses on the exhibit. Russell's hero, having moved the civilians out of the way during the back-and-forth on this event, let the Australian's villain win that one, not really caring about the outcome at that point. The Australian promptly narrated that the wall collapsed on the mayor, killing him (and later convinced the hero character to run for mayor in the deceased man's place). This guy really got the mechanic of the game, and we were all surprised and delighted at how that one turned out.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

[Mortal Coil] Magic Tokens

Going further on the Mortal Coil development, let's review the setting statement:

Mortal Coil is a game of emotional drama with a supernatural theme.

We dealt with the emotional drama portion of this with the passion system. Now let's take a look at the supernatural theme. I have envisioned Mortal Coil taking place in what is expressly our own world, but with fabulous or magical details added in. The game was originally conceived in large part as an alternative to Vampire: The Masquerade, but I don't want to limit its scope at all at this point. The more I worked with the system, the more I wanted to make the magical portions at least partially customizable by group, and this is where I still want to go with it. Mortal Coil vampires, for example, should be defined by the group itself.

To do this, we need some sort of currency within the game that can be spent to create this content. I already have a set of tokens called Magic Tokens, but I am not entirely satisfied with what they do at the moment, and I want to give some power to all players at the table, not just those who decide to play magically based characters.

Mortal Coil is intended to be a fairly general supernatural game. All kinds of different campaign worlds can be created for potential play, and the tools for doing this will be in the hands of the players. They will collaborate to create a unique game world, with its own rules of magic.

What Magic Tokens will do is create a special sort of world-building right for players when they use the tokens. Sacrificing magic tokens will allow a player to create a new magical fact in the game world. When character generation begins, the players will begin to create the sort of world they want to play in, and decide what the level of magic will be and begin to define its characteristics. When creating a character, facts can be established by sacrificing magic tokens to buy magical abilities for the characters. These facts will then be established parts of the world.

For example, a player building a vampire character can draw on all sorts of folklore to create this type of character. Are vampires burned by sunlight? Repelled by crosses? Can they fly? When the player creates the character and adds these magical characteristics, they become facts established in play that now apply universally. Likewise, during play, Magic Tokens can be sacrificed to establish facts about magic in the game.

The exact mechanic is still a bit in flux, but I will post more as I work it out.