Cinemechanix: Conflicts & Complications

Category: Cussin' In Tongues
Created on Friday, 02 November 2018 Written by Steve

Last week I talked about trying to make some of the advantageous stuff from the non-mechanics side of the character sheet more gamable. Ultimately, the simplest solution was to expand the definition of Edges to include things like useful connections, resources, and relationships and making it clear that (just like with skills) not having an Edge in a particular thing doesn’t indicate a lack of that thing. The Edge just gives you a bonus and makes the thing slightly less subject to GM fiat. Your character who works as a chemistry professor almost certainly has some access to the university lab whether or not he has an Edge in “Lab,” but a character with the Edge will have fewer hoops to jump through to get access for personal use and face fewer questions about what he’s doing in there. And he’ll get a bonus to his chemistry rolls when he’s using the lab facilities. 

The negative and neutral traits aren’t quite as straightforward because there’s a lot of different stuff going on and it all needs slightly different rules. At one point I’d divided them into 3 categories: Defining Personality Traits (actually this one started out as Character Flaws, but I decided to expand it to include stuff that isn’t necessarily all bad, but could still be problematic), Goals, and Complications. 

Defining Personality Traits

  • Have a rating of 2 or higher.
  • The total ratings of all the character’s defining personality traits can’t exceed Hero Factor.
  • Don’t cost or give character points.
  • Player is not required to choose any defining personality traits.
  • Whenever the character gets a Thumbs Up (or Thumbs Down) for playing the trait well (or badly), he gets (or loses) a Acclaim equal to the rating in the trait.
  • If the player spends Acclaim to get a bonus and one of his personality traits is applicable, he multiplies the bonus by his rating in the trait. For example, if a character with the “Religious Fanatic” personality trait at 3 spends Acclaim to get a Dice Bonus on a roll to smite an infidel, he’d get a Dice Bonus of +3 instead of the usual +1.
  • The GM can also impose the trait rating as a penalty to any roll if he feels like the trait would detract from the character’s chance of success. For example, he might give a character with the “Honest” penalty a dice penalty equal to his trait rating when he’s rolling to convincingly tell a bold-faced lie.

Sample Defining Personality Traits: Arrogant, Big Mouth, Bloodthirsty, Braggart, Brave, Cheapskate, Compassionate, Compulsive Behaviour, Control Freak, Coward, Curiosity Killed The Cat, Danger Junkie, Dramatic, Easy-Going, Fanatic, Glory Hound, Glutton, Gullible, Greedy, Grumpy, Happy-Go-Lucky, Hedonist, Honest, Hot Tempered, Humble, Impatient, Impulsive, Intolerant, Know-It-All, Lazy, Lecherous, Loyal, Morbid, Naive, Obsession, Outgoing, Overconfident, Paranoid, Patient, Patriotic, Pious, Reckless, Sadistic, Self-Righteous, Serious, Shy, Smartass, Spendthrift, Strong-Willed, Stylish, Superstitious, Trusting, Uncouth, Weak-Willed, Vanity, Vengeful

Character Goals

  • Have a rating of 1 or higher.
  • The total ratings of all the character’s Character Goals can’t exceed Hero Factor.
  • Don’t cost or give character points.
  • Player is not required to choose any Character Goals.
  • Character Goals have to be specific and attainable. “Clear My Name,” “Kill The Six-Fingered Man,” and “Rescue the Princess” work. Vague or open-ended goals like “Fight Crime” or “Destroy All Monsters” don’t. Character Goals, as the name implies, must also be character-specific. Goals that are common to the entire party or are central to the campaign (like “Destroy The One Ring”) aren’t eligible.
  • At the beginning of any Scene that has the potential to offer the character a chance to get closer to reaching his goal*, the player gets a number of temporary Acclaim equal to the Character Goal’s rating. The Acclaim disappears at the end of the Scene if it isn’t used.
  • If the character makes measurable progress toward his goal during a session, he earns Acclaim equal to the rating.
  • When the character completes the goal, he earns Character Points (some function of the rating, TBD).

*The GM will have to use her best judgement here. If a character’s goal is to rescue his sister from the villain who kidnapped her, he probably won’t get the bonus Acclaim for getting into a fight with a bunch of low-level minions who aren’t likely to have any useful information. If one of the bad-guy’s lieutenants is with them, the bonus Acclaim makes sense. Likewise, the character doesn’t get the bonus simply because “losing” a Scene would interfere with his pursuit of the goal. For example, a fugitive trying to clear his name wouldn’t get the bonus in every scene where he’s attempting to evade the police, only the ones where they’re standing between him and the evidence he needs to prove his innocence. Player-initiated scenes should usually get the bonus; it encourages the players to be proactive.

Sample Goals:

  • Kill the man who murdered my family
  • Find a way back to Oz
  • Save the old clock tower
  • Get a record deal
  • Become Guildmaster of Thieves
  • Steal the Declaration of Independence

Complications

  • Have a rating of 2 or higher
  • Total ratings of all Complications can’t exceed Hero Factor
  • Each point of Complications gives the character 1 bonus for Edges or Resources
  • Usually affect the story more than the mechanics. It’s a good choice for “all or nothing” disadvantages like Blindness or Illiteracy. 
  • When the GM rules the complication interferes with a roll, the penalty is equal to the rating.
  • Sometimes the complication can work in a character’s favor. For example, a character’s distinctive appearance might be intimidating. For the character to get a bonus, he has to explain why the complication helps him and spend Acclaim. The normal Acclaim bonus is multiplied by the complication rating.
  • Some complications can also be Drawbacks. For example, a character who is missing an arm and isn’t used to it yet might have both. Once he adjusts, he just has the complication, which generally should mean the problem comes into play less frequently.

Sample Complications: Amnesia, Code of Honor, Dark Secret, Disability (Missing Arm, Wheelchair-Bound, Blind, Deaf, etc.), Disgraced, Distinctive Appearance, Doesn’t Legally Exist, Criminal Record, Ego Signature, Enemy, Fame/Infamy, Illiterate, Knows Something, Obligation, Phobia, Rival, Secret Identity/Double Life, Stranger in a Strange Land, Wanted Man, Vendetta, Vengeful Ex, Vow

Restructuring 

The categories above lasted 22 days (according to the dates on the posts in the playtest group). I explained my reasoning for changing them in a series of comments: 

Complications:The main problem here is that I'm trying to mix two types of things: Things that are all or mostly story (Dark Secrets, Wanted by the Police) and things like being blind or having a missing arm. I think I'm going to cut out the second type. If you've got a character who's deaf or physically addicted to drugs or something, you and the GM figure out the rules on a case by case basis. It can be a general Drawback (Blindness -4), a Special Effect (that outlines specific guidelines and maybe specific penalties for certain situations), or just an agreement that the GM can make rulings based on the trait (Good for cosmetic-type traits that are rarely to ever affect the story or mechanics, like Nick Fury's missing eye (unless Fury's other eye gets blinded, it's just a costume choice). I realize the Drawback option reverses the "Drawbacks don't work for 'all or nothing' disadvantages" thing, but the key is to assume a certain level of common sense--the fact that Deafness is a Drawback doesn't mean your character can roll to hear something, just that he can roll with penalty for things that are generally based largely on hearing but could be accomplished some other way (reading lips or noticing someone sneaking up behind you based on scent). This allows players and GMs to customize those kinds of rules to the game and character, reinforces the idea that Special Effects are used whenever the basic rules don't work, and again eliminates wonky distinctions.

Goals: Goals and story complications are already pretty close (technically a wrongfully convicted felon who wants to clear his name would have one of each) and sometimes the distinction isn't clear (is a code of honor a complication or a goal?), but now that we've gotten rid of the Drawback-like complications, we can roll them together into one group (I'm thinking "Conflicts" to make it clear that these have to be things that create story).

So the re-re-re-revised version of the Story Traits is just two traits; Defining Personality Traits (work as described above) and Conflicts. Conflict Rules:

  • Rating of 2 or higher 
  • You get extra points to spend from them equal to the rating 
  • GM can use them against you (penalty equal to rating)
  • If you can come up with a way to use them to your advantage, you can spend Acclaim and multiply the bonus the Acclaim gives you by the rating. 
  • You can get Acclaim when the conflict makes things more interesting or the character proactively engages in the conflict. 
  • If the conflict gets resolved, you get character points.

And I just realized that Defining Personality Traits can be rolled into Conflicts (since defining personality traits that never cause conflict don't make sense in the context), so we're down to one extra story trait with a lot of possible variations. I considered making them free before, but now I think they definitely need to be (still limited by Hero Factor, though).

So, at the end of it all, I was back down to just one extra mechanic type called “Conflicts.” Just like before they were mechanized, they still mostly affect the story: having an enemy or a being on a Mission from God mostly limits your choices and invites the GM to introduce situations where your conflict will cause, well, conflict. Putting them all into the same bucket eliminates having to try to define wonky distinctions (like the eternal “is that really a Weakness?” question with QAGS). They all work using the same mechanics, but the frequency with which each of those mechanics come into play will vary based on the details of the conflict. Choosing “Irritable” as a conflict is a good way to earn Acclaim for role-playing and will likely give you penalties to social rolls on a fairly regular basis, but there aren’t going to be a lot of situations where you’ll be able to convince the GM it’s worth a bonus. Choosing something like “Hates Orcs” probably won’t cause a lot of problems in most games with orcs (except with the orcs, who may decide they hate the player back and act on that hate). It will also give you plenty of opportunities to get a bonus, but that bonus is based on how much Acclaim you’re willing to spend, which limits how much lemonade you can make from your character’s racism. 

I’ve still got a little bit of ironing out to do with the details of the mechanics (mostly related to the idea of giving the character a reward for resolving the conflicts), but kicking out the “condition” type disadvantages (diseases, addictions, missing limbs) and combining them all into one bucket that the GM can use as a modifier (to any roll, not just the player’s--a cop who would have a reason to recognize the character with criminal background would get it as a bonus to realize the character’s a wanted mean) and the player can use as an Acclaim multiplier seems to work. Conflicts didn’t come up a lot during con season (they tend to be more applicable for campaign play), but when they did they seemed to work just fine and players liked the option of turning a disadvantage to the character’s advantage. 

I’ve briefly toyed with the idea of rolling drawbacks into the conflicts bucket, but ultimately I decided against it because most can’t be turned to the player’s advantage and it would reintroduce the problem I got rid of by moving out the “condition” disadvantages (since a drawback like “Bad Eyesight” is on the same spectrum as “Blind”). Also, keeping Drawback separate leaves us with Good (Edges), Bad (Drawbacks), and Mixed (Conflicts) buckets rather than just Good and Problematic. 

With the addition of Conflicts, the new and improved version of the character stats is complete and I’ve had a whole convention season to make sure they work in play. The next task is more daunting: figuring out a way to model movie-style combat scenes without resorting to complicated or math-heavy rules. I’ve been turning some ideas over in my head for a few months now now and I think it’s starting to gel. Next time we’ll see if I can start turning it into something coherent enough to playtest. 

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Cinemechanix: Conflicts & Complications.
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