Chocolate with Peanut Butter, or Peanut Butter with Chocolate?

So… after playing the Shab all-Hiri Roach tonight (which was fun and a really good time for all) and discussing Capes in broad terms over the last couple days on my blog with the players in my group, I’ve figured out a significant distinction between different types of games that I think avoids some misconceptions and frustration when introducing or even just discussing a new game with folks.
Of the games I’ve been playing in the last, say… two to three years (not counting d20), there are essentially two types:
1. Roleplaying games that have a ‘story, now’ focus in them (frex: Sorcerer, HeroQuest, The Shadow of Yesterday, Dogs in the Vineyard). By that I mean, you have ‘your guy’, you play them, and story arises from the conflict and Crises of Choice with which they’re faced.
2. Storytelling games, perhaps somewhat descendants of, say, Once Upon a Time or the Baron Munchausen game, that focus on telling a Story, with roleplay as a secondary element, usually as a delivery method of said story. (My Life with Master, Shock:, Bacchanal, Shab al-Hiri Roach, Capes).
It’s not always clear-cut — InSpectres is *probably* in category 2, but it’s such a goofy romp thing — I dunno, it’s hard to say. Primetime Adventures I *think* is in category 1, but it explores the elements of Story so well, it’s again hard to say. I think that certainly there’s a WHOLE range of places a game can fall on a scale — maybe with… say… Capes on one end and super-crunchy Burning Wheel on the other.
And also, with more comfort with a game like the Roach, perhaps the system goes away and the game moves to more RP focus — that said, the Roach structure lends itself more to being aware of said structure… I mean, my perception of SaHR might change with familiarity, but… Capes? Capes isn’t going to. It’s *about* constructing a cool super-heroic story MUCH more than ‘playing your guy’, and I should add that it’s GOOD at that, I think, but it’s not the same thing as, say, Sorcerer.
At all.
Why does this matter?
Well… if I’m aware of that, and I analyze the game from that point of view when I’m first reading it and learning it, and then put that out there with people when I talk about it: “This is a story-telling game. We’ll be doing some roleplaying, but the focus is sort of narrator-level, Baron Munchauseny story-telling with some RP” — if that expectation is SET, you don’t get as much potential frustration from someone who was looking for the cathartic release that comes from killing something and taking its stuff.
I mean, when you’ve got a guy in your group (or you ARE the guy in your group) who wants to play a super-hero guy, beat up some bad guys, maybe make a couple tough moral choices, but essentially play his guy and let the story flow from that… Capes will piss him off. I’m not picking on Capes. Capes is a good game, but it will not be what he was in the mood for — what he wanted. It COULD be, on another day, or when expectations are clearly set ahead of time, but not if they aren’t.
It’s good to know what you’re gonna get, and it’s clear to me (now, finally) that it’s not enough to say it’s a ‘hippie indie/Forge rpg’. There are layers. Nuances. Out and out significant and important differences.


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