Personalized Special Effects for Cinemechanix

Category: Cussin' In Tongues
Created on Friday, 17 November 2017 Written by Steve

Before we start, you should go buy The Comprehensive Soldier, the newest sourcebook for Qerth! 

One of the core ideas of Cinemechanix is that we don’t give you rules for playing a game, we give you the tools to create the rules for the game you want to play.* One recurring idea in the rules is that sometimes you need rules that are specific to the character. That’s why we’ve got a Special Effects trait that’s basically defined as “something that doesn’t work according to the usual rules.” Super-heroes are probably the most obvious examples: The Flash and Superman both have super-speed, but since The Flash gets his speed from the Speed Force and Superman gets his from the effects of Earth’s Yellow Sun (™) on his Kryptonian biology, they’re going to work a little differently. The basic rule for running really fast might be the same, but Barry’s also going to have all kinds of freaky Speed Force-related powers (and drawbacks, like Time Wraiths) that Superman doesn’t. Likewise, Iron Man’s “armor” power will probably require slightly more complex rules than The Thing’s, if only because the Iron Man suit can get trashed without killing Tony. The Thing’s armor is his skin, so you just need to know how much damage it soaks up. The Iron Man suit probably at least needs its own Stamina stat so we’ve got a way of knowing when it’s been blasted to uselessness. If you want to get fancy, you can even have rules and tables to decide what other suit capabilities get fragged when the suit takes a hit. 

Until I created the demo characters for Archon, I’d mostly just used Special Effects for “weird stuff” like super-powers and spells and toy gimmicks. Since the demo characters were a little less fantastical, I got to see how Special Effects could work as character gimmicks for more low-key characters. I really like the way they turned out, to the point that I’m wondering if there’s a way to make these kinds of character-based Special Effects more explicit in the rules. Since creating known characters that I was familiar with made it click for me, I’m going to provide the demo characters as examples here to give you a better idea of what I’m talking about. However, in the interest of not getting called a fuckwit on a public forum, I’m going to use generic character archetypes instead of actual character names. 

Space Cowboys

The first set of characters were for a Space Cowboys game and were certainly not based on any short-lived TV shows you might have seen. There were 9 characters, each with their own Special Effect:  

  • The Roguish Captain’s Special Effect is “Natural Leader.” Once per game, it allows him to issue orders to the troops in order to give them 1 Boost to all rolls. If the orders are given in advance as part of a plan, the bonus Boost applies to every roll until the plan goes south. If the order is issued on the fly while the action is taking place, the Boost lasts for a number of rounds equal to Roguish Captain’s Hero Factor. 
  • The No-Nonsense Second-in-Command “Has Your Back.” Once per combat Scene, she can steal the Initiative from an enemy who is about to attack an ally and take a free action against the NPC she stole the Initiative from. After taking her free action, she can pass the Initiative to anyone she wants (including herself if she hasn’t take her normal action yet). Since the NPC’s action was interrupted, he can still get the Initiative later in the round.  
  • The Wacky Pilot has a “Zen Flying” Special Effect. Once per game, he can add a number of Boosts equal to his Hero Factor to a single piloting roll. 
  • The Cheerful Mechanic’s Special Effect is “That’s My Girl” (referring to the ship). Once per game, she can use the ship itself to give a number of Boosts or Drops equal to her Hero Factor to other characters’ rolls. They can be all applied to one roll or spread out over multiple rolls or characters. The only stipulation is that the player has to explain how the ship is helping or hindering the affected characters. For example, maybe she’s causing alarms to go off to mask the sounds of an ally’s movement, giving him a bonus to his stealth roll. 
  • The Hick Mercenary is “The King of Second Chances.” Once per game, he can re-roll a failed roll (for contested rolls, he decides whether his opponent re-rolls or keeps the original). If the Hick Mercenary succeeds/wins the second time around, his failure turns into an unexpected success. For example, the bullet that missed ricochets and hits the intended target on the second pass. When The Hick Mercenary uses this ability to do something completely selfish (like seduce a woman, cheat at poker, or talk his way out of getting spaced), he gets a Boost to the re-roll. 
  • The Cultured Courtesan has “Wiles,” and she knows how to use them. Once per game, she can convince any male NPC with a lower Hero Factor to do her bidding. No roll is required. 
  • The Enigmatic Preacher’s Special Effect is “I Wasn’t Always A Shepherd.” Once per game, he can automatically succeed at any knowledge-based roll as long as the topic is one that a preacher would not be expected to know about. 
  • The Mild-Mannered Doctor “Has One Job.” He gets a Boost to all rolls during any Scene in which his sister is in danger. 
  • The Broken Superweapon’s Special Effect is “No Power in the ‘Verse Can Stop Me.” Once per game, she can unleash her powers to get bonuses to her rolls. The first bonus is worth Boosts equal to her Hero Factor and the number of Boosts decreases with each bonus used. All bonuses must be used in the same Scene, but don’t have to apply to consecutive rolls.  

Awesome Dudes

The second game using established characters was sort of “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” but with action movie heroes from a variety of action movies:  

  • The Irritable Monster Hunter’s Special Effect was “This Is My Boomstick!” It allows him to add his Hero Factor to damage whenever he successfully attacks with a shotgun. 
  • The Macho Woman With A Gun (For A Leg) has a “Useless Talents” Special Effect. Once per Scene, she can add 1 Boost to a roll by using one of her useless talents (the player has to provide the number and name for the talent).**
  • The Singing Cat Burglar has the “Swingin’ On A Star” Special Effect. If he plans something (a heist, an attack, or whatever) and times it to a song (or songs), he gets 1 Boost to all rolls require to pull off the plan. 
  • The Hard-Boiled Truck Driver has the “Badass Backfire” Special Effect. If he tries to look cool, he gets a Bad Break if any die over d4 is a “1” but a Lucky Break if any die over d4 rolls the maximum. Sometimes he fires a machine gun up in the air and gets hit by falling ceiling, sometimes he catches a knife that was thrown at him. It’s all in the reflexes. 
  • One Bad Ass Mexican’s Special Effect is “Machetes.” When using a machete (or multiple machetes), he gets a Damage Bonus equal to his Hero Factor and never suffers a Bad Break. 
  • The Heroic Drifter’s “True Sight” Special Effect comes from his magic sunglasses. It allows him to see hidden monsters for what they really are and decipher visually coded messages. 
  • The Future of Humanity’s Mom is “Prepared For The Worst.” Once per game, she can access a safe house, supply stash, or contact that she’s set up “just in case.” 
  • The Charismatic Bank Robber Special Effect is “Ok [verb]-ers, let’s get [verb]-ing.” Once per game, he can come up with a strategy that gives all of his allies 1 Boost to all rolls that contribute to the end goal. The Bonus lasts a number of rounds equal to his Hero Factor. 
  • The Guy on the Donkey's just a guy on a donkey.  

The biggest question about this kind of personalized Special Effect is whether they can work for new characters. For familiar characters, these kind of abilities make perfect sense because there’s an established history, but I’m not sure if you can “force” them by giving them to a character at the start of the game. They seem like they’d work better if they came from actual play, so they may work better as special reward that characters get when the level up than as starting abilities. So maybe the character who always seemed to find the vital clue could get a “Clue Magnet” Special Effect, or the character with a history of rolling insanely well on persuasion rolls gets a “Silver Tongue” Special Effect. 

*Don’t worry if that sounds like a lot of trouble. The Elevator Pitches we’ll be releasing will in fact give you the rules for playing specific games. Just remember that those are the rules for tat particular ficton, not generic universal non-denominational rules. “Kid Wizard School” will have a completely different set of magic rules than “Tragic Occult Chain Smokers,” and both of those will be vastly less stupid than the magic rules for Qerth. 

**Her machine gun leg is a Hero Prop. 

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Personalized Special Effects for Cinemechanix.
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