On Capering

Here's a test post to try out the WordPress blogging.

 At first  glance it looks pretty cool and workable.  It also looks to be very configurable (almost dangerously so) and I'm sure there will be learning curve.  It does look like it will support multiple owners/posters, so a collaborative blog should be possible here.

 The main point of this was going to be to collect all the discussion about Heist/Caper games from the listserv, so I'll include that here as well.

Thor started it with:

http://www.20by20room.com/2006/04/sticky_fingers.html#more

this is a great start on the idea that has haunted me more than any. I
know Pete likes this kind of thing and it has implications to spy game
stuff as well.

Michael added:

I really liked the Heist article too.  I was working on something like
this in the 80s in a scenario variously called Thief or St. Michael's
Island, which was a Monte Carlo kind of place where PCs did the To Catch
A Thief thing with James Bond overtones, but also a little bit of
realpolitik — there was a Palestinian refuge camp on the island that
was a hotbed of terrorist activity and various cold war spy agencies
lurking about.  One of the reasons I lost interest in the project is
that it was turning out very much like the D&D version described in the
article.  This was admittedly a failure of my own imagination, but
designing high-tech traps for everything got kind of tedious.  Also, I
found I eventually kept reusing the same protective devices over and
over, which clearly was not going to work long-term as the PCs got wised
up.  Another problem was, if you design the protections for an object
with a weak link for the PCs to exploit, the plot can become fairly
programmed and the PCs may wind up feeling led by the nose.  I guess my
point is that, at a conceptual level, I understand the attraction of
planning and playing the D&D heist approach, but keeping even a
mini-campaign consistently interesting and non-repetitive could be a
helluva lot of work.  My thinking now would be to create something as a
one-off, throw in the kitchen sink and build in a number of different
but intersecting potential solutions and then set the PCs loose.  It may
take a number of sessions to play but would not be uses as an ongoing
setting.

Also, I would have to add The Great Train Robbery, the book or the
movie, to the list of must-have heist sources, although I would point
out that it involves no loss of train.

and Thor replied:

Michael did a really wonderful spy thing set in the frankfurt airport
that was both so very over my head and so beyond what my character
could do that at the time I hated it. It was, as I say wonderful,but
in the form of a novel not a game. However, if those parts could be
re-designed to allow for more player control everything else was
there. Very queen and country deep lots of potential for sex and
secrets.

Mike – Do you still have that stuff anywhere?

then I blathered:

The 20×20 article, as well as Michael's comments, both point to one of the key
problems that makes the whole field of things like this difficult.  

You could have great specificity about something, with the GM detailing the
whole thing with all sorts of systems and equipment, and the players needing to
come up with corresponding levels of detail about their abilities and
equipment.  But, since we are dealing with a system of abstracted simulation,
this ultimately breaks down.

You could have a "fortune-in-the-middle" system, as Rob describes in his
article, where the die roll answers all of the specificity (and the details
have to be made up by the player and GM to keep the story moving):  "You make a
Breaking and Entering roll, or whatever, and succeed. Your jewel thief slaps a
suction cup on the window, pulls a glass cutter out of her pack, and cuts a
smooth circle out of the glass. Does it say “glass cutter” and “suction cup” on
her character sheet? No. Did you say “I bring my glass cutter and suction cup”
to the GM before the heist started? No. That foresight is included in your
successful roll."  

The downside to the FitM approach is that it tends to trivialize the player's
involvement.  The player has no benefit from having a clever idea or thinking
of a particular tool that will be needed, if it all lies in the dice.
Foresight and planning are taken out, and a lot of the time that's the fun
part.

Pushing things a bit farther, what is to keep a FitM caper from being reduced
to a single die roll?  Reduce the whole thing to success or failure: Roll d20;
if you get a 17 or better, you managed to steal the Pink Panther, and you get
away.  What do we do for the next 4 hours…?

I'm not sure I have the answer, but what about something that sets out a
certain outline for the adventure?  There are a number of elements, but they
are
broadly identified by type, so we know the breadth of the adventure, though not
the specifics.  (This is a bit like where I think the multiple-GM Spy Game
should go, as well, so I'm thinking about it from that perspective as much as
anything else.)  This would exclude the wild plot change stunt like we pulled
on Pete in Operation Dingleberry.

For example, let's say the adventure is to steal the Pink Panther diamond.  You
know there will be three security systems in the vault, and you will have to
have two encounters with the security team, and two stages to your getaway,
plus the GM has one surprise item that can be played at whim.  There's enough
structure in that to identify it as a caper, and the players can concentrate on
just the elements that are going to be gamed, and other stuff is mostly off the
table.

Or, for the spy game (and would probably also work for a heist game) give a
certain number of points to the adventure, and then let the GM(s) spend those
points (three security systems is 9 points, and each getaway segment is 2
points each, so call it a 16 point adventure, and leave the GM 3 points for
randomness).

(BTW, I would love to play in a successful Thief of Bagdad game; something that
really captured some of the flavor of adventure in that fashion.  The online DQ
game I was trying to start up just before we moved to Michigan was meant to be
something like that (we were calling it the Arabian campaign, IIRC).  I won't
claim it was successful, but I still love the basic concept.)

There's probably more to be said about this, but I've spent enough time on it,
so I ought to just send it out.

and Thor responded:

focusing on just two things

The downside to the FitM approach is that it tends to trivialize the
player's involvement.  The player has no benefit from having a clever idea or thinking
of a particular tool that will be needed, if it all lies in the dice.
Foresight and planning are taken out, and a lot of the time that's the fun
part.

In most FitM systems there are serious bonuses for having a clever Idea or fiting the story to the dice well. Sorcerer specifically penalizes anyone who doesn't juice up the description. The other system would penalize you for bringing an allen wrench instead of a torx. the important thing for a heist is to be able to get the feel of thinkng and performing something you quite possibly couldn't do in real life and making it fun. Plausability is important but no more so than a movie.

Pushing things a bit farther, what is to keep a FitM caper from being reducedto a single die roll?  Reduce the whole thing to success or failure: Roll d20;if you get a 17 or better, you managed to steal the Pink Panther, and you get
away.  What do we do for the next 4 hours…?

Nothing more than there is in any other game. If it was germaine to the story for your character to steal a diamond for some larger part of the plot(Building the laser that will blow up the aliens that no one is supposed to know about, for example ) I would certainly not have a problem with your saying " I need to steal a big ass diamond from the museum for my laser" and reducing it to a Dogs type conflict with some cool cut away scenes.

In Greg Rucka's first Q&C novel Gentlemans Game or whatever there is a wonderful scene where Tara assasinates this guy for the Mosad. the assasination apears between chapters and the next scene is her fleeing the hit. It may have been counter intuitive for him to do that but maybe he wrote himself into a corner and thought I just have to get past this and
moved on. One has to decide if what you are doing is consistant with the story you want to tell. One of the important ideas I have gotten from the story games is that you should present the players with choices where the outcome is fairly interesting either way. and as we have seen there is nothing interesting about finding yourself in a situation where you think there is no way out.
On a side note I like the idea that you have so many points that your character could spend in the game to account for preplanning. these would function like hero points but you could use them to bring story points intoplay for that sort of thing.

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