Remember Cinemechanix?

Category: Cussin' In Tongues
Created on Friday, 31 August 2018 Written by Steve

Cinemechanix has gone through some changes since the beginning of the D&D review that wouldn’t die, so it seems like a good idea to use the first few post-insanity game blogs to talk about how the game has changed since the last time I posted about it here. For quite some time, I thought the most recent version of the rules (1.3) was very close to a final version. To some extent, I was right. The basic mechanics work how I want them to work, but between playtesting and writing something that bordered on a full supplement (The Six Gun Seven, a “mini-game” that I wrote for my Patreon followers that ended up being something like 40 pages), I’ve noticed a few things that bugged me, most of them related to character stats. So the character sheet has undergone some changes. 

The biggest problem was that the “Character Concept” section of the character sheet kept growing. In addition to Role, Backstory, Fatal Flaw, and Femoral Artery Integrity, most game-specific words were part of the Character Concept as well. Since the rule was that you roll a d20 for anything related to character concept, I noticed in actual play that characters ended up using a d20 for practically every roll. The whole setup caused several problems, which I listed in a doc that I posted to the playtest group.* 

  • The whole “Character Concept as a group of traits” thing has always been weird and a little confusing/wonky/a pain in the ass to write rules about. 
  • Rolling a d20 instead of a d12 is pretty big advantage when you look at the math, and the current system gives you a bunch of ways to get that bonus: if you don’t to roll a d20 on combat rolls because you’re a cop, you get it because you’re a Klingon, or because you paid your way through college as a pit fighter, or for some other reason. The d20 should be rarer and the generic “This is something the character should be good at” bonus should be less powerful.
  • The current set-up creates the whole “If all Klingons roll a d20 for fighting, it’s dumb to choose “Warrior” as your Role if you’re a Klingon” thing. This is similar to the “Word overlap” problem we ran into in QAGS (and especially M-Force, which had two Jobs), where building a more focused character with related words didn’t necessarily give you better rolls in the area of expertise. 
  • Backstory is either boring, redundant, or an invitation for power gamers to pick a backstory that lets them roll a d20 on a bunch of useful skills not covered by their Role. It’s also something that’s sometimes better to leave undefined since in fiction you usually learn about the character’s backstory as the story unfolds. Making the player define it from the outset can result in a less organic character than filling in the backstory as the character takes shape during actual play. Getting rid of Backstory as a trait supports the “nothing is real until it shows up on screen” rule that’s mentioned several times throughout the book. 
  • Let’s face it, Fatal Flaw is a holdover from the QAGS Weakness. The more I tried to come up with Fatal Flaws for characters, the more it became clear to me that the vast majority of characters in fiction don’t have Fatal Flaws, at least in the way I was trying to define them here. Fatal Flaw is essential if you’re going to be playing Shakespearean Tragedy, but most characters, especially in genre fiction, just don’t have them. Their Weaknesses tend limitations and complications defined by the story and genre or personality traits that are best handled with role-playing.  

So, long story short, I decided to scrap the whole Character Concept block for a single trait called “Character Concept” (though I may go back to “Role”) which is more or less the same as a Job in QAGS. I’m about to have to write up a description more detailed than the generic “What you are or do” line I’ve been using at cons, and I think one idea I want to hit is that Character Concept isn’t how the character defines himself or even how other characters in the world would define him. It’s how the audience sees the character. Mechanically, Character Concept gives you a single Dice Bonus (which I think I’m going to use in place of “Boost” because I never really liked it). This has a couple of advantages: 

  • Defining the Role/Concept from the audience’s point of view makes awarding the bonus less a matter of interpreting the descriptor and more about considering whether the roll in question is something the audience would expect the character to be good at. The descriptor is more a starting point than a definition, which means players don’t have to try to make the descriptor something that covers every aspect of the character. 
  • Since the bonus for Role/Concept is relatively minor, there’s less of a gap between “useful” (Cop, Soldier) and “useless” Roles (Zeppo, Slacker). The Army Ranger gets 1 Boost for All The Rolls instead of the equivalent of 4. This will hopefully encourage players to choose more interesting/appropriate Roles instead of just trying to find the job with the most useful skill set. 

So, what happens to all those other words? 

  • If you want to get bonuses for your character’s exciting Backstory, spend some points to buy the appropriate traits. Otherwise, he’s out of practice. 
  • If you want your character to have a Fatal Flaw, by all means role-play it. Actually, we will be adding some rules later on to let players get some mechanical benefits for good role-playing, but none of its as epic as a Fatal Flaw. 
  • All those game-specific concept traits become “Special Traits” and by default they have specific rules/templates attached to them (even if it’s just something as vague as  “You get a Boost for Dwarf Stuff”).

Some of you may be wondering if I’ve gone completely counter to QAGS here and dumped the d20 from the system entirely. After all, the “Concept Bump” was previously the only way to roll a d20, and now it’s just worth a measly dice bonus. Never fear! Now you get the d20 from something called a Trademark (the skill-like traits formerly called Trademarks go back to their old name, “Edges”), which I’ll explain next week. 

*Sorry, playtesters, but the next few blog posts are going to contain a lot of stuff that’s old news to you. 

*Also, full disclosure: A lot of the things that I say came from the playtest group are more accurately “inspired by actual posts and comments” from the playtest group. I’ve cleaned some things up for clarity, eliminated references to things that were later changed, and in some cases skipped over some mis-steps between my initial ideas and the current version f the game.

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