Cinemechanix: The Plan

Category: Cussin' In Tongues
Created on Friday, 12 April 2019 Written by Steve

Since I’ve made so many changes recently, some of you may be under the impression that Cinemechanix will yet again not be released in 2019. You’re totally right about that if you mean the core rulebook, but that’s because we decided a while back to hold off on the core rulebook until we’ve put out a few “powered by Cinemechanix” settings. This is partially because it’s harder to sell a system than a setting. We got lucky with QAGS, but that was a fluke. Another reason is that every time I actually start adapting the general rules framework to a setting, I learn new things about how the system needs to work, so putting together more settings should lead to a stronger core book for adapting the rules to your own game. 

Even though the core rules aren’t happening for a little while, I want to put out a game that uses the Cinemechanix system by the end of the year, and preferably in time for Archon in October. This might seem impossible given the number of changes, but even though most of the changes seem big, I feel like they’re just closing in on what I’ve been working toward and at this point I’ve tested so many variations that I think I can predict how the game is going to play reasonably well. I expect playtesting to turn up a few problems, but I think they’re going to be either relatively minor or are going to apply to the adaptational stuff (magic, powers, super science, etc.) that needs to be fine tuned for each setting. I think once I’ve managed to set down all the ideas into an actual rules doc, the core system will finally be the system I’ve been looking for. 

So that’s part one of the plan. Put together a rules document. This isn’t going to be a full core rulebook with tons of options and GM advice and well-written text. It’s going to be a simple working document that hits the high points for running a game. It has to be quick and dirty because I’m not the only one running Cinemechanix games at DieCon (in June) and I need to make sure Leighton has what he needs to run the current version. I’m shooting for having the absolute basics all written up into usable (but ugly) basic rules by May 1. Keeping it simple will also make it easier to make changes that inevitably result from actual play. Once I’ve got proof of concept (defined as “The DieCon and other playtest games aren’t a total disaster that results in scrapping everything and starting over.”), I’ll start fine tuning and expanding the core rules into a very basic SRD-type rules write-up that can be used as the starting point for the rules section of specific games. Then I’ll start figuring out how to make the fringe stuff work inspecific games, one of which will be the lucky winner of the title “first Cinemechanix game.” 

What will that game be? I don’t know, but there are several games that I know I want to release with the Cinemechanix system, so when I’m designing the core rules and thinking about how they will work within a specific game  (or how they need to be adapted to fit a specific premise), I’ll be designing with these games in mind. Some of them are far more likely to be the first to print than others, but, as I learned from Sharktoberfest and QAGS Second Editions, sometimes a sudden burst of inspiration (or primal rage) can cause a game to come together more quickly than you’d expect. 

Here are the contenders:


At Archon last year, we decided that Hobomancer would be our first Cinemechanix game, since it’s (1) our best seller and (2) the game we all still love unconditionally. Also, there’s practically nothing we want to change, so it’s mostly just a rules transplant (I later realized that we hadn’t really thought about how many monsters are in the book, but Cinemechanix monster format should be even easier than QAGS so maybe that’s not a big problem). The biggest barrier to getting Hobomancer out by the end of the year is that we really want to do a Kickstarter for it so we can pay the artist better and maybe even afford better production values. I don’t think we have time to do it right in the time we’ve got, and the more I think about it, the more I think we need our first Kickstarter to be something with lower stakes so we can kind of do a practice run and work out the kinks before we do The Big One. 


While M-Force was one of the main inspirations for what became (or more accurately, is becoming) Cinemechanix and we have enough material to fill several books, I feel very safe saying that this will not be the first game. The problem is that all the material we have is very badly organized: stuff from the first edition, stuff that didn’t fit into first edition, first edition books that weren’t released, stuff we’ve written up for our own campaigns and con games, Death Cookie articles, numerous sections rewritten for different working drafts of the new edition. Whittling it all down into specific core books and supplements is going to be a lot of work. Even though the game’s going to take a while, most of the system choices for Cinemechanix are strongly informed by the question “How would this work in M-Force?” 

Guardians of Aetheria 

This setting, which was originally conceived as a cross between He-Man and Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards, is the game the Sample of Play Theater characters will be playing in the examples for the core rulebook. The biggest problem I’ve had with it is that the two tones can’t really co-exist; one has to evolve into the other. In other words, my original idea is a story, not a setting. That leaves me with two possibilities. One is a more straightforward Saturday Morning Cartoon take that could theoretically be used as the starting point for an “official storyline” kind of campaign supplement later that takes the characters to the dark parts of the world. The other is more “He-Man re-imagined as a Heavy Metal story.” I’m not sure which one I’m leaning toward, but I think grabbing onto a strong central idea instead of trying to meld two tones that just don’t fit will make the game very writable. It would work well as a shorter, “Elevator Pitch” type book with just the basics, so this is a strong contender. 

The Six-Gun Seven 

This is probably the leading contender right now, in part because huge chunks of it are written (though using an older version of the Cinemechanix rules that will need to be converted). I did it as a Patreon exclusive “mini-game” (which I think turned into about 40 pages instead of the 5-10 I promised). I’ve also already got the cover art (by Juan Navarro), which we usually don’t have until very close to the release date. There’s stuff I’d like to add, but most of it’s “would be nice” rather than “essential” and a big chunk of that is historical stuff that players can read about online just as easily as I can. Other than the rules conversion, the main necessity is the monster section, and since it’s set in the Hex Ficton I can use existing monsters from M-Force and (especially) Hobomancer, which means I just need to stat them out in Cinemechanix (which, as mentioned earlier, probably won’t be very difficult). 


This game has a fascinating development story that Leighton will probably tell you all about if you ask. He seems to enjoy watching it unfold. While it’s getting close to congealing into something playable, I think I need to run some more con games (and maybe even a home campaign) to really solidify how everything fits together. The mash-up math is “Cold War Propaganda-style Nuclear Apocalypse + Rockabilly + 70s Nihilist Road Trip/Trucker Movies + Jericho/TWD-style survival/rebuilding,” so there’s a lot to process, but it’s starting to gel. 

The Dark Horses

The games below are far too vaguely-defined at this point to have much chance of being developed into playable games by the end of the year, but they’re all ideas that have stuck with me long enough that I know I want to write them eventually, so they’re going to inform the game design for the core system.

  • The Herrick Agency: Private Detectives who investigate weird shit, who you may remember from such Hex Products as Mars & Venus at War and the sidebars in the American Artifacts books. This one is actually pretty well-developed, but it’s kind of in that M-Force zone of “we love it so much we don’t want to screw it up” and the premise as we’ve historically used it is too open-ended to build a game around without us just coming to your house and running it. 
  • Lance Jackson & The Red Sun: This is actually kind of an M-Force spin-off, since the idea came from a “Mayor West from Family Guy” type M-Force character who starred as Lance Jackson in a terrible low-budget sci-fi show in the 60s. I don’t remember if the heavy-handed anti-communist propaganda of the show was part of the original concept or something we just decided had to be included later. 
  • American Wizard School: Basically Hogwarts in the America of Hobomancer. I keep coming up with possible ways to do this, but have yet to land on something that can bridge the gap between Harry Potter and hobos. 
  • Outlaws of Goblin Holler: Very much in the Hobomancer and American Artifacts line, this is about Appalachian bootleggers who more or less live on a Hellmouth. It might just be where I finally find a home for my vague ideas about car magic. 
  • CyberGods: The basic idea here was inspired by the Grant Morrison “we can become our own super-heroes” stuff from his book Supergods. The basic thinking is that nobody needs Superman-style heroes (in the glurgiest, most Grant Morrison/”Supergirl saves the city with the power of hope” sense) than the miserable bastards in a cyberpunk setting. With cybernetics, people can become exactly those kinds of heroes. If just a few people with access to the tech can stop being miserable bastards long enough, they can change the world. Outside of the typical problems of writing cyberpunk and the trickines of making the tone work, the biggest challenge here is not veering off into pure satire. Since the people would most logically have the cash and inclination to become self-made super-heroes would be well-meaning (but mostly clueless and tone-deaf) wealthy Liberals, there’s a lot of room to go for pure comedy here.  
  • Gods of the Midway: I don’t even know what the hell this is, but it involves carnies and mythological people and I’ve already done too much research not do do a circus-based  game sooner or later.

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Cinemechanix: The Plan.
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