Cinemechanix: Margins, Effects, and Raises

Category: Cussin' In Tongues
Created on Friday, 15 February 2019 Written by Steve

Since I’ve occasionally posted links to Zak Smith/Sabbath’s blog, I want start his week off by publicly stating that I believe Mandy Morbid and will not be supporting Zak or those who continue to work with or support him in the future. The three bucks a month I was giving him on Patreon has been cancelled and will be redirected to someone who actually deserves my support (recommendations welcomed) and “Remove all links to Playing D&D with Porn Stars” has been added to the To Do list for the Death Cookie Wordpress conversion that I’ve been half-assedly working on. I once defended him in a private conversation by saying that I thought he was more of an asshole than an actual monster. Turns out he is, in fact, an actual monster. May he eat turds in Hell with Sean Patrick Fannon.  

Now, game stuff. 

I think the change to how roll results are read needs some more explanation and examples to click, along with some terminology. I’ll start with a recap and the introduction of the terminology:

Player makes his roll (for a contest, the opponent also makes his roll)

If player roll beats the target number (or opponent’s roll), subtract the target number from the roll. This is the Margin of the success. For simple pass/fail rolls, you can usually stop here. 

If you need to the roll to translate into additional mechanical effects, you break the Margin down into two values. The ones digit of the degree becomes the Effect. The tens digit is the number of Raises the player gets. [Note: I hate “Raises,” but haven’t been able to come up with anything better. Suggestions welcomed.]

If the Margin is evenly divisible by 10, the player can choose to either trade a Raise for an Effect 10 or keep all the raises with an Effect 0.  


I’m giving the difference between the successful roll and the target number a name purely to simplify talking about it. There might be a few cases where it has a mechanical use (for example, if you need to generate a target number from the roll), but I don’t think it will come up very often. In most cases where the degree of success matters, you’ll want to use Effect and Raises. 


Effect describes how well the character performs the basic action and usually determines short-term mechanical payoff for the roll (for example, how much Stamina damage an attack does or the penalty generated by distraction). For extended rolls, the Effect is used as a bonus on the player’s next roll (it can also be used mechanically, but I think the outcome of individual rolls within an extended roll will typically be descriptive). 


Effect describes how well you do the basic action. Raises are bells and whistles. For each Raise, you can do something cool. Sometimes the cool thing will have mechanical effects (cause extra damage), sometimes it will affect the characters (disarm an opponent), location (crash through the glass coffee table), or plot (knock somebody the fuck out) in some way, and sometimes it will be purely descriptive (do a somersault as you jump over the shark). 

There will be a few set mechanical uses for Raises (provided the player can come up with a cool way to explain the effect). For example, maybe you can add your Hero Factor to the Effect, carry a Raise over to your next roll (losing it if the roll wastes the Raise), or trade the roll for a bonus dice or Acclaim. Specific sub-systems will usually have their own more specific option. For example, in combat you can cause a wound, pull off a special move like a trip or disarm, etc. 

Finally, instead of using the Raise to do something immediately cool, you can contribute Raises toward a larger goal. In my first draft of this post, I tried to get into the description of it, but it turned into a confusing mess. I know how it works, but I haven’t quite figured out how to explain it clearly. I decided to cut that for now and try to clean it up for next week. The basic idea is to set up an extended roll type mechanic where the individual rolls represent an action while also contributing to a larger goal over the course of several rounds. A few examples:

  • Abstractly representing positioning/movement/tactics in a fight scene. For example, the GM may rule that it takes 5 raises to herd the monster into position to spring your ingenious trap; if the monster realizes he’s being herded or has a compelling reason to not go toward the trap, he can use his raises to lower your running total. 
  • Standard extended roll type stuff, like a scene where two characters are racing. Individual rolls and totals determine the ebb and flow of the action and the first one to reach the goal number wins the race. 
  • Scene goals where several different actions are contributing toward a larger a particular outcome. For example, if you’ve invited your boss over for dinner trying to impress him into giving you a raise, you might contribute raises from a cooking roll (for the meal itself), a couple of charm-type rolls (for the conversation), rolls for whatever you job is (to impress him him when you talk shop), etc. The number of raises you manage to collect determines whether the boss takes a liking to you. 
  • Down-time/Off-screen rolls for things like research, science, or magic item creation. 
  • “Countdown” rolls for when PCs have a limited amount of time to pull off a complex series of actions (heists are the obvious example). If you don’t collect the required number of raises within the time limit, the cops arrive or the timer closes the vault or whatever. 
  • Montage rolls for things like sporting events, preparing for battle, stakeouts, etc. For sports, the number of raises determines who wins and by how much, for the latter two the raises from the montage could translate into bonuses for a future scene (the coming battle, the raid on the bad guy’s lair you’ve been watching, etc.). 

I’ve still got quite a bit of work to do, but breaking things down into Effect and Raises makes the math for running totals easier and differentiates between the immediate gains of the action and the longer-term advantage.

©2012 by Hex Games
Cinemechanix: Margins, Effects, and Raises.
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