Sunday, October 18, 2015

A thought adventure

Warning: This is a long one.

A thought adventure using the ideas I had the other day.

We take, oh, Batman. The Joker is a standard villain for him. I don't have a writeup for him, but the Joker is about chaos and the Batman is about restoring order, so that's the problem in some way.  I have no idea how many points we assign the Joker, so let's do it without assigning any points, see how many we rack up, and that might give us an idea of what significant and insignificant mean here.

I'm going to try to create a story using the rules I've laid out, but if there's a conflict, story wins and I'll amend the rules. And remember, I'm not trying to create deathless prose; I just want it to feel like a story.

(It might be nice if this were a helpful tool for creating stories, but if it isn't, I don't care. That's not its purpose.)

Thoughts and commentary will be indented, like this.

Stage 1: The Threat

We quickly introduce Violet St. Germaine, Bruce's girlfriend of the moment. (A point!) They are at a charity ball (another point!) that has to do with some imposing-order or helping kind of thing...orphans. They're trying to give families to orphans. Bruce is all over this; he doesn't want other kids to go through what he did. Okay, so the story has something to do with putting orphans in families...making the standard nuclear family, I guess. So the Joker's plan will make more orphans, or kill the parents. I don't know what, yet, and I don't have to.

The Joker attacks the ball, mostly because he says he's trying to draw out Batman, but Bats isn't showing because he can't get away (another point). He robs everyone (because a little extra cash isn't a bad thing) and mentions that there's nothing wrong with orphans. He was an orphan, and he likes the way he turned out. He decides to kidnap Violet St. Germaine to bring out Batman (another point), they finish tying people up, and he shoots Bruce, who is trying to attack. (Another point!) Bruce takes out some henchmen, but the Joker gets him. Only wings him, though, because Bruce is fast. Still, Bruce will have the complication of a wound for a while. They leave, with Bruce lying on the floor, possibly bleeding.

Points so far:
  • Introduce a character (Violet)
  • Introduce a theme (the charity ball)
  • Set stakes (put Violet in jeopardy)
  • Lose to villain
  • Complication (Bruce is hurt)

We'll try five points. So the Joker is a five point villain? I don't know, but really, I'm not sure that the threat stage needs a point value. It needs certain things to happen, but it might not need points.

If it really is something in that range of points, then the thing to do is decide on the length of your story and set down the die with that many faces, turning it up to remind you. So as soon as you get your first point you plunk down a D6 and increment the count on it; once you reach five (or six), you can fulfill the end condition for that stage. Maybe the number of faces would correspond to the length of the adventure: D4, D6 are short adventures. D8 and D10 are long adventures. D12 is really long. D20 is for crazy people.

Stage 2: The Investigation

Leslie Thompkins  helps Bruce but says, "You've been shot! You need to rest!" Bruce says he's had worse and immediately falls down (a point). He has to rest.
Under the current setup, we don't get points for introducing characters after the threat stage, just for reusing them. So we don't get points for introducing Leslie or Alfred to the adventure. We get points if they show up again, though.

He wakes up at home...Alfred brought him home. Bruce being Bruce, he doesn't want to ask for help, even though Dick Grayson or Clark Kent or whomever would help. No, he's going to take the disadvantage of the winged arm and go with it. Still, he hasn't figured out how to where the Batman costume with the sling.
Point for adding the complication that he can't wear the costume.

As Bruce Wayne, he checks on the police. They have nothing. They haven't even been notified that the Joker has escaped Arkham Asylum yet. (That sounds like something I can reincorporate later.)

Well, Bruce Wayne is on the board there, so he can make a tour of the asylum and try to get some information. He manages to browbeat Dr. Phillips to let him see the Joker's cell. (It's empty. They discovered the dummy when the police called.)

Bruce spots something odd that explains how the Joker got away...the cell literally has a revolving wall. An old escape mechanism that someone has refurbished. The list of people with access gives him a place to start investigating.
Now, that solution feels like it's worth a point--it gives Batman somewhere to go. Does that fit any of the criteria I've already mentioned? Maybe it's a plot device, though I had in mind things like "the raygun that makes you a turtleman". Still....

The cells were refurbished by Lantern Gate, a security firm that specializes in high-tech places. Bruce goes there, claiming it's for the charity from last night. (Point for reincorporating that device, though.) Maybe he claims it's for the hotel, or for the charity itself. The manager at Lantern Gate--call him Mr. Strom--gives him a line. He knows it's a line, but Bruce Wayne can't force the issue. Batman could.

All this story stuff is great, but what about superhero action?

Alfred (take a point for reusing him) has his Batman suit jout in the car but strenuously objects to him doing his thing. Bruse costumes up (except for the arm, where he can't fit the costume over the bandage so he's got a bare arm down to the gauntlet) and rigs up a sling.

Hmmm. I think that there should be some rule or complication that enforces the idea that encounters have effects. That's part of what the reuse thing does, though of course it can be abused.
He sneaks inside and thugs come out from the back room and say that Mr. Strom did well, but they're not going to release his aged mother just yet.

Do I get a point for doing the thing where Strom might become an orphan? Nah, it's just a callback to the theme rather than something meaty. It doesn't feel like it is a consequence of anything in the story so far, it feels like it's decoration that reminds of us the theme.

Well, the day that Batman can't take a pair of gunmen even with one bad arm is the day he retires. Fight scene, resolved by the game system involved. I'm going to assume that he wins, because it's so in his wheelhouse. Strom did do the work in Arkham Asylum, because the crooks had his mother. And yes, they work for the Joker.

 Now Batman has got to rescue Strom's mother and Violet.
For that complication, I will take a point, though: that's going to have effects. That's probably the way to think about it: does something have consequences?
Amazing detective work follows and Batman figures out where the thugs came from ("This mark on their's tarry, but it isn't tar. It looks like the stuff they use in hospitals to keep the dust down. There's a medicinal smell. Their car has a chalk mark on the wheel, so they parked at a meter...the only  medical place it could be is (make up a name) Ravenwing. The place has been closed for years.") That detective work is a function of the game system, not this system. He has Alfred drive him there, because (a) he doesn't have the Batmobile and (b) his fight has had effects.
Is that a new complication from being winged or is it just following through on the original? We'll take a point, just to see. But it feels like the larger rule is not "reuse" but rather "take a point when something from earlier has an effect."
He goes to Ravenwing and sneaks in. Here he discovers Strom's mother (yay!). Wounded and at a disadvantage, he fights the thugs there. Whether he wins or loses, he discovers the Joker's plan and discovers that the Joker's plan is to kill everyone in the city over puberty...making them orphans.

That's enough points but he has to know where to go. So if he won the fight, there might be some clue that sends him to the right place (and we'd lose a story point because he'd rescue Strom's mother). If he lost the fight, he'd still find a clue, but Strom's mother might be there.

We'll assume that he won because hey, he's the Batman.

  • He can't wear the costume (complication)
  • Reuse the theme of the charity ball
  • Reuse Alfred
  • Lose a point for managing to costume up, when we said he couldn't
  • Added complication of finding and rescuing the mother
  • Get a point for having the being winged affect him even though he decided to get costumed up
  • Lose a point for resolving the Strom's mother thing
  • Get a point for raising the stakes
  • Get a point for having the theme involved
Six points total. Kinda feels like the midpoint of a comics story, though...maybe one from the Bronze Age.

Stage 3: Challenge

I think this time we'll make it harder on him. The Joker has actually hired some superpowered help, ostensibly because he was worried that Batman would bring one of his superpowered playmates, but that gives us someone for Batman to beat (or be beaten by) without invoking the main villain. I guess the main villain should be called the big bad or the boss or something. I'll think about that.

Let's invent somebody...we want to reflect the theme somehow, so let's call him Boy Hunger. The super power involves weakening his opponents...some kind of weakness added to a starvation kind of mind control. The weak-minded become gluttonous killing machines, probably with an enhanced ability to hit. Since Batman has the complication of the injury, we'll make it by touch, or by being near. It's quite Batman-like to have the secondary villain affect other people.
The delivery mechanism for this thing is going to be the elevated train: it will spray the chemical all along the route of the train (yes, I just made that up). Batman needs to get to the train garage, where they're going to fasten it to the train.

At the train garage, there are a number of unconscious people--it doesn't take detective work to find them. He doesn't see the Joker, which tells him that he's too late, but Violet is there. (Take a point for character reuse!) And so are several thugs and Boy Hunger. Fight scene...

The fight is a game system thing, but it's obviously the thugs and then Boy Hunger uses his power on Violet and...oh, let's reuse Alfred because he's there. Let's say that the other thugs, the ones that were outside looking for him, bring in Alfred, and Boy Hunger uses his power to make both Violet and Alfred into awful things, who attack him. (They'll feel awful about it, later.)

Now, either Batman wins or he loses. If he loses, you get an extra point for losing. If he wins, well, he still has to get to the Joker but now he knows that the device is already on the train. (You see how we've structured this so that we don't say the device is there until we discover that we need the points, so it isn't?) Either way, it's not enough points. The advantage of him losing is that of course the thugs will take him to the train.

Let's assume that he wins the fight, because the story still has a place to go. I know that's story thinking and not gaming. But we would want the points from losing, so that we can move into the end game. (Are people going to game this way? Maybe. But if you come up with a good narrative reason why you lose this fight, that's not a bad thing. You just have to deal with it later. Winning against a capo like this should be good, though, so long as it's not the Big Bad.)

Boy Hunger gets away. Maybe we'll reuse him later, maybe not, but we have a choice.

  • Reuse of Violet 
  • Complication: Personal use of Violet and Alfred
  • Didn't lose the fight, but he didn't get the current villain. Should that be worth a point? I don't know how to phrase it yet, but this might be worth a point. Should we count winning against a capo as worth a point? It signifies some kind of story movement.
  • Are Violet and Alfred rescued? Yes, I think they are. So that's wrapping up a complication. Might be worth a point at this stage.
  • I would count that the fact that the device is in place and about to go off (It's on the train! about to destroy all the adults in Gotham!) as ratcheting up the stakes (making them immediate), then he's got another point, and we end the stage.
Is it worth rescuing Violet and Alfred at this stage? By the rules I've laid out, it's not: you need the point. From a story point of view, it is: now that you've "used" Violet and Alfred with Boy Hunger, it feels like you can't use them in the last chunk of the story. (If the Joker had taken them away, totally worth it: they still have value. But because I chose to use them here, not so much.) So in the future, either wrapping up a complication in this stage is worth a point, or beating a capo in this stage is worth two points. I also think that there might be some usefulness to distinguishing between the consequences of something earlier, and an actual plot twist. Like, as a story, the fact that there's another superhuman involved is a twist that means Batman doesn't end the story with this confrontation. If those are distinguished, maybe that's a twist. (And if this were a story, I'd totally introduce Boy Hunger sooner, so it's not a surprise when he shows up.)

 Stage 4: Comeback

 Because Alfred's being checked out by doctors, Batman is driving the limo himself, trying to get to the train. He's got the radio tuned to train chatter, so he's following the train's progress and thinks the Joker is going to release the agent when he gets to the center of town, the most densely populated section.
Maybe a point for him driving the limo, increasing the chances of someone making the Bruce Wayne-Batman connection? Maybe if this weren't the end game. No point for forecasting the plan; that feels more like a plot device to get him to the confrontation.

Also because we don't care about little details, the train has to slow down to make a curve, and Batman's plan involves speeding up so he can jump to it, even though the limo will be destroyed when it hits a concrete abutment. He makes it, possibly through the use of a game mechanism such as Last Ditch Effort.
We might consider losing the limo as a spend on his part to get another story point. It's a resource that he's burning up. Think about that.
 The jump does horrible things to his injured arm. (Point!) He works his way up the train to where the Joker is. Before he enters the car, he unhooks the other cars.
Feels like there should be a point for that, for trying to save innocents. Probably that's a game-system thing: acting in accordance with his drives or qualities.

Now it's Joker against Batman. There are probably other people around--people who didn't notice the white-faced green-haired lunatic--but maybe not; maybe Joker's henchmen cleared everyone off the car first. (We'd ask our oracle.) Batman has only one extra point here, and he needs to make five in order to beat the Joker. So we'll go up against the thugs first (for a point).

They go down. (It's Batman, after all.)

Are we going to bring in Boy Hunger? I don't think so: it really feels like a mano a mano throwdown at this point. But what I set up has Batman with only two or three points, and he needs five.

So Joker, who is not without his own resources, slips on his gas mask.
Does that count as ratcheting up the tension? Because it means that the button press is imminent. That would give Batman three or four points.
Joker notices the hurt arm and taunts about it. "The obvious conclusion is that you're Bruce Wayne."
Complication? If this were part of a campaign, I'd allow the point, because it's such a comic book thing to do for a series. In this case, I'll allow it anyway because it clearly plays into one of Batman's complications, and it can be reincorporated if we do another story. So Batman has four or five points. If we're not allowing that other point, Batman can't win. Except that winning gets him a point, which means he can.
So here's how I might play it out the ending:
  • Batman loses the fight with the Joker. I allow a retcon (allowed in ICONS and several other supers games) that makes it work: When the Joker knocked him down, Batman used something or other he took from the lab to disarm the bomb, so that even when Joker presses the button, it doesn't work.
  • Batman wins the fight with the Joker. Hey, he won. No problem.
But those endings are problematic. Have to think about that.

I think there's a decent skeleton of a system here, but clearly it needs some flesh and muscle.

I'll make some modifications and try it with my own characters, which don't have this kind of backstory.