Keys and Aspects vs Drives from Capes

edited October 2010 in Story Games
I just got my hands on Capes. This seems to be an amazing system! There are so many interesting things at work in it, and I can't wait to play it. I am just not sure about how Drives should work out in play. They seem to be along the same lines as Keys and Aspects, but they are much more wide open, and I am not sure if this is better or not. I am familiar with both Aspects and Keys. I really like how they reward role-playing your character as well as add some serious flavor to a PC. They can also be very evocative of character. I like that. I also like the fact that Keys and Aspects are player created and focused reward cycles. Neat.

I also have to say that I really like the design ethic that went into Lady Blackbird by John Harper. Every piece of that document is evocative and unlocks imagination better than any other RPG I have seen. 16 pages of pure genius. The way that the whole game is a simple conflict resolution mechanic and characters made of Traits + Tags, Keys, Secrets, and Conditions, as well as a loosely sketched out setting, all knit together in a tight situation, and each element is worded to evoke the tone and theme of the game. I feel like Capes could use some of that ethic. The whole document relies on previous knowledge of the genre to allow players to create the type of comic book game that they want. This is somewhat similar to Lady Blackbird in that previous genre knowledge is helpful, but the specific units of game mechanic/design are extremely evocative in Lady Blackbird, and cue certain types of play. Drives are all generic values seen in comic books, and even with the Exemplars addition, it is still pretty generic. I kinda wonder if this generic nature is by necessity, or was it just a design choice.

Can anyone tell me how Drives work out in play? How about comparing them to both Keys and Aspects? Could drives be narrowed a little to make them more like Keys or Aspects, or would this make them non-functional with the rest of Capes. If one were to create a set of pre-gen characters as well as a complete set of Click and Locks in an attempt to create a more focused game, what ways could you add evocative elements to these characters/concepts to hone in on a certain tone?

To clarify, I am thinking about creating materials for a one-shot -> maybe mini-campaign to entice my group to play Capes. Supers doesn't work for them, and having something anywhere near as evocative as Lady Blackbird would really up the chances of it actually happening.

Thanks in advance.


  • Lee,

    First, I love playing Capes. I'm glad you're excited about the game.

    Second, you don't actually have to play Supers to play Capes. I've run heroic fantasy with Capes and it works just fine. A lot of heroic fantasy is a lot like superheroes in a medieval setting anyway. So in that sense there isn't really a need for a bridge game. I'd be happy to share how my fantasy game worked if you're interested.

    Finally, Drives seem to occupy a different role in Capes than Apects and Keys do in FATE and TSoY. In Capes, Drives seem to be there to define what motivates the character to use his Powers. Why is he/she doing all this fantastic stuff? Is it a darker motivation (villainous Drives) or more heroic motivations (heroic Drives)? When I stake Debt from a specific Drive my narration should (in my opinion anyway) be colored by what Drive I'm pulling from; although, there isn't a hard and fast rule for that. Your Drives will also dictate what kind of other characters are going to show up in your story in terms of your Exemplars.

    Aspects and Keys seem more tightly tied to the reward system of their respective games to me. They also seem to enforce a more strictly defined color than Drives. I've never played around with making alternate Drives so I'm not sure how it would work out. I don't see why it wouldn't work though. Figure out the two opposing motivational camps you want to explore in your game (aka heroic vs villainous). Then make the specific Drives that define those two camps. I'm not sure how narrowly you would want to define them. Drives are pretty broad by design. I don't know how narrowing their focus would affect the game play.

  • Maybe I should develope some of what I am struggling with here. Here is what I am talking about.

    Lady Blackbird
    Actions -> Use Traits -> Voluntarily Activate Keys if related to Key -> Stored in Pool -> Used to Escalate in later Actions

    Actions -> Use Powers -> Mandatory Generation of Debt -> Stored in Drives -> Used to Escalate in later Actions if related to Drive

    So the difference between to two games with regard to Drives vs Keys is:

    For Keys, they are very specific, the relationship of the fiction to the Key is necessary to gain the point, but not to use the point, and this gain is a voluntary thing, with no negative consequences.

    For Drives, they are very general, the relationship to the Drive is necessary to use the point, but not to gain the point, and this gain is mandatory, with negative consequences if you gain too much.

    I have a hard time seeing how the point of contact of the pathway with the fiction really matters for this whole thing. They seem mostly equivalent. Is the timing of the point of contact important? Would making Drives as specific as Keys break the Capes pathway by narrowing scope in a mandatory system? Is the Generic nature of Drives necessary considering the mandatory gain and negaitve consequences of Debt?

    These would all likely be answered with some playtesting, but I might only get one shot at this. We shall see.

  • I've never looked at Lady Blackbird so I don't have much to say about that. I've played TSoY and FATE. The Keys and Aspects in TSoY and FATE are very different from the Drives in Capes. At least they have been in my experience.

    My thoughts are that you could replace the current Drives with others that are more setting appropriate if you wanted without too much trouble. I also think you could do heroic fantasy without changing much of anything except the Comics Code.

    I do think the contact with the fiction is important in that is the real reason the Drive exists at all. I've played in simplified games of Capes in which there were no separate Drives but only a single, unnamed pool of Debt. It worked fine. The only thing adding Drives changed was the added focus on character motivation in the fiction when narrating the use of Debt. That contact with the fiction is the point of Drives.
  • Lady Blackbird. Keys in Lady Blackbird are slightly changed from their initial debut in TSoY. They add to a resource pool that can be used to affect conflicts as well as giving XP.

    The contact with the fiction is very important for these mechanics in my opinion, but I just haven't worked out how the timing affects the play.

    For Drives, it really seems to come down to the Why of escalation. You gain Debt by using Powers, and you assign them to whatever drive you want, possibly justifying it in the fiction. Then, when you would like to escalate a conflict in an effort to win, you Stake the Debt on the conflict, and then the conflict is supposed to be given meaning based on what Drive you Staked the Debt out of. It really gives the Why of the conflict. It answers the question "Why do you deserve the Powers that you use?" with the answer "So I could do this! See, I am worthy because of my noble/heroic/villainous character." It is about what having Power means to the character.

    For Keys, it is a reward mechanic for playing to character. Characters who are consistent in their play even in the face of things that may be counter to their best interests are rewarded, making play in that way both cool in the fiction as well as optimal from a game perspective. Keys seem to answer the question of How as well as potentially Why. I guess in this way, they may be a little broader than Drives. Interesting. I think I may just work on this for a minute.

    The Drive Justice could easily be reformatted as the Key of Justice, and the other way round. The Key of Duty could be reformatted as the Drive Duty, and the other way round. They would both be saying thematically similar things, as long as the other differences between Keys and Drives do not change the thematic impact. That still remains an unanswered question for me. Do the other differences change the thematic impact.

    Another question is whether you could take all Keys and make Drives out of them. It seems easy if you go for Keys like Fraternity, or Greed, or The Mission. It seems more difficult when considering Keys like The Imposter, or The Paragon. These could be shoehorned into the current Drives, but making these more specific might be possible as well as might drastically change the game play.

    As far as timing goes, it seems like it could really affect the game play. With Keys, you declare "This is How or Why I do this thing." It may not help you win this conflict, but it will enhance your chance of winning overall by earning resources. For Drives, you declare "This is Why I do this thing." It directly helps you win that conflict. Winning a conflict enhances your chance of winning future conflicts through Inspirations and inhibits your chance of winning future conflicts through Story Points, but it definitely and directly helps you win the conflict in question. This is actually the entire point of Staking, and really is the heart of escalation in Capes. For Keys, playing to character makes you more competent over time, and for Drives playing to character makes you more competent right now.

    Would adding the thematic question How to the already established Why in Capes break Drives? Would changing the timing of the effect of Keys from over time to right now break Keys? This also doesn't get into the idea of economies based on mandatory gain vs volutary gain and their effects on both Keys and Drives. How might changing obligation to right change each of Keys and Drives?
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