Articles

Cinemechanix: Here's What I'm Thinking

Category: Cussin' In Tongues
Created on Friday, 11 January 2019 Written by Steve

After much consideration, I’ve decided to stick with a fairly traditional set of attributes for Cinemechanix, but with one minor variation. I ended up with seven set stats and one that the player gets to define: Strength, Agility, Dexterity, Intelligence, Instinct, Charisma, Resolve, and Trademark. Let’s go through them:

  • Strength: Just like in every other game, strength is mainly about brute force. You roll strength when your character wants to lift something heavy, do a pull-up, or bash down a door. 
  • Agility: This is coordination, balance, speed, grace, and the general ability to make your body do what you want it to do (most of Dexterity in D&D terms). Kung Fu masters, ballerinas, and escape artists have high Agility scores. 
  • Dexterity: This one measures hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills. You use it for ranged combat, most arts and crafts, and things like lockpicking or stage magic. It’s basically Agility for hands and tools. 
  • Intelligence: Intellect, knowledge, memory, and general smarts. Criminal masterminds, college professors, and nerds of all types have high Intelligence. 
  • Instinct: This covers intuition, perception, and common sense. You use it to tell when someone’s lying to you, sense motives and patterns, and notice things that might kill you. CSI types solve crimes using Intelligence. Hard-boiled detectives rely on Instinct. 
  • Charisma: Charisma is your self-confidence, force of personality and ability to interact with other people. A high Charisma could be a matter of natural charm, a forceful and commanding presence, or just the fact that you seem to know what you’re doing. 
  • Resolve: Resolve is your ability to withstand pain, hardship, and exhaustion, both physical and mental. Resolve is mainly used to resist the negative effects of pain, exhaustion, starvation, or extreme conditions (cold, heat, etc). In games with magic or other supernatural elements, it can also be used to resist things like mind control or possession. 
  • Trademark: If I’m going to add attributes, I think Trademark as it currently exists has to go. For one thing, a lot of the existing Trademarks are really just high attribute scores. For another, once you add a new rule for attributes on top of the existing ones, there are just too many moving parts. So instead the plan is to roll Trademarks into Attributes and give each character a player-defined Attribute. The Trademark works just like the other Attributes (the Edges tied to it determine its bonus), but when it applies players can either roll Trademark instead of the standard attribute or add the bonuses for both attributes (which one depends on how attribute bonuses end up working--more on that next week). Since most of the “high stat” Trademarks are already covered with the new Attributes, most Trademarks will end up being either a skill set (like Covert Ops or Beach Bum) or a style-type attribute (Sneaky, Swashbuckler, etc), which I think will reduce the need for a defined list (though I still think every game should have a thorough set of examples). 

Thoughts and Notes

I was really tempted to either cut down the number of physical attributes or expand the others into more symmetrical categories (kind of like the Storyteller system, where each of the 3 traits in each category measures a different aspect of the overall category), but decided against both options because of the way games (and fiction) actually work. With the physical stuff, there’s a much clearer distinction (both in character creation and deciding what attribute to use for a roll) between the different aspects of the ability and a single Body stat makes it hard to distinguish between the brute and the martial artist. On the other hand, most characters in fiction are either smart or dumb, perceptive or clueless, likable or not, etc. In most RPGs, breaking these stats down further just creates gray areas where it’s not clear which stat covers a particular roll. It’s clear that lifting a rock is Strength and jumping a fence is Agility, but is solving a crossword puzzles Knowledge or Problems Solving? 

A lot of games either roll Perception into Brain or have a separate Perception attribute, but in both cases empathy/people reading is usually included as part of the “Social” skill (or more rarely, given its own attribute). I like the idea of making them both part of the “Guts and Hunches” attribute because both rely more on instinct than intellect and because most characters in fiction (most notably hard-boiled detectives and con artists) are equally good at sensing reading situations and reading people. Separating social/emotional perception away from social interaction also allows for the kind of character who’s lousy with people but still understands human behaviour (you know, like serial killers, psychological profilers, and House). 

I almost skipped Resolve. Stamina can cover physical exhaustion and you could roll Strength if it was more of a body integrity/shock kind of roll. And since players always have free will, you theoretically don’t need a resistance stat for mental/social type “attacks,” weakness triggers, fear checks, etc. I decided to keep it for three reasons: (1) Magic and supernatural stuff can still trump player free will, so you need a way to resist it; (2) In most situations involving surviving harsh physical conditions, the scrappy old hobo will outlast the muscle-bound beefcake. Also, it’s kind of a rule of fiction that the spirit gives up before the body gives out and protagonists can survive extreme conditions through sheer force of will; and (3) There are some situations (exorcisms, some kinds of magic, Green Lantern rings) where you just need a Willpower-type roll. 

I started out wanting to use more fun names like “Brains” for Intelligence and “Grit” or “Moxie” for resolve, but for some of these attributes there isn’t another word that really works. They’re either too specific or have connotations I don’t like. For example, most alternatives to Dexterity are either too vague (deft), too “arts and crafts” (artful), potentially confusing (finesse is often used to mean social skill), or have criminal connotations (crafty). Since most of the words that describe what they need to describe aren’t very punchy, the punchy ones felt out of place. My two least favorite are “Resolve” and “Dexterity.” If you’ve got something better (or feedback in general), please let me know. 

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