Cinemechanix Design Journal 12: Character Creation, Part 2

Category: Cussin' In Tongues
Created on Friday, 25 March 2016 Written by Steve

Last week I describe the broad categories of character traits for Cinemechanix. This weeks I'm going to talk about the individual words in each of the 3 main sections of the character sheet. 

Character Concept Traits

The Character Concept defines who the character is and what he can do. Character concept traits are less about how well a character does something than what the character can do. They're more about deciding whether a character needs to or can roll for an action than adding or subtracting dice from that roll. A character who's blind can't read a billboard no matter how well he rolls, and in most games characters can't fly unless they've got a special ability or gadget that gives them flight abilities, for example. Concept traits may also allow players to do things without rolling (a super strong character doesn't have to roll to pick up a couch) or require them to roll for actions that that would usually succeed automatically (Captain America may need to roll to see if he knows who shot Reagan, since he's was frozen in a block of ice during the 80s). When it comes to actual rolls, a player can get up to 1 Bonus Die and 1 Penalty Die for Concept traits, no matter how may concept traits potentially apply. If you have a Role of "Cop" and a Backstory of "Former Track Star," you still only get 1 Bonus Die for concept when you roll to chase down a bad guy. If you want more, you'll have to put some Trademark Dice into running fast. 

Character Name, Tag Line, and Who Would Play Him/Her In The Movie? are identical to the QAGS Words of the same name and rarely affect game mechanics, so I'm going to assume they don't need any explanation.

Role is similar to Job in QAGS, but Cinemechanix Roles should give some insight into the character's personality as well as his abilities, resources, and other stuff covered by a QAGS Job. So where a QAGS character would have a Job of "Private Detective," a Cinemechanix character should have a Role of "Hard-Boiled Private Detective" or "Meticulous Private Detective" or "Perpetually Stoned Private Detective."  

Backstory isn't a completely character background, just a short (1 or 2 sentence) description of where the character came from and (if necessary) how he got wherever he is at the beginning of the story. Examples include things like "Convicted felon who just got out of jail" and "last son of a dying planet rocketed to earth and raised by kindly farmers."  

Fatal Flaw is sort of similar to Weakness in QAGS, but a lot more specific. Not just any disadvantage can be a Fatal Flaw. A Fatal Flaw is specifically a character failing. Any of the Deadly Sins, addiction, obsession, and pretty much anything that causes the character to habitually do things that aren't in his best interest can work. Unlike Weaknesses in QAGS, Fatal Flaws are governed by role-playing, not die rolls. It's always up to the player to decide whether or not the character gives in to his Fatal Flaw. Players who role-play their Fatal Flaw well can earn Acclaim and those who blatantly ignore their Fatal Flaw when it really should cause problems can lose Acclaim, but otherwise it's up to the player to decide how much control the Fatal Flaw has over the character's life.

Game-Specific Traits are additional concept traits specific to the game you're playing. For example, a game set at Hogwarts might have "House" as a Game-Specific Trait, a super-hero game might have a "Secret Identity" trait, etc. 

Hooks is a catch-all category for any other traits that make you different or special. You don't need to worry about Hooks that are already implicit in other concept traits, just the thing that make you unusual. If you're a Hobbit, we already know you're short. You only need a "Short" Hook if you're a human of Dinklagian proportions. You also don't have to worry about Hooks that are implicit in the game premise (if the game is about outlaws, everybody's already wanted by the authorities--not having a price on your head would be the Hook). Common Hook types include:

  • Unusual physical traits (missing an eye, covered in tattoos, has devil horns)
  • Special powers or abilities (psychic, invulnerable, amphibious)
  • Curses or unusual vulnerabilities (lycanthropy, Kryptonite allergy, magically compelled to always speak truth)
  • Unusual or uncharacteristic resources or connections (wealthy family, childhood friend of the Mayor, has his own crime cave) 
  • Story hooks or plot complications that are relevant to the game (wanted by the police, homeless, out for revenge)
  • Role-playing/characterization hooks (code of honor, hates elves, chain smoker, gravelly voice)


Tropes are things the character is known for or does on a regular basis. Actions the character is good at are called Trademarks. Things the character is bad at are called Drawbacks. Characters start with a number of Trademark Dice equal to their Hero Factor and can put multiple dice into a single Trademark. For each dice of Drawbacks a character takes, he gets an extra Trademark Die to assign.  Unlike Concept Dice, Trope Dice stack, so if you've got 1 Die in "Puzzle Solving" and 2 Dice in "History," you get 3 Bonus Dice when you roll to solve a historical puzzle. 

Trademarks are things the character is good at doing and does regularly to resolve plot points. As I said last week, it's important to remember that the character isn't an inventory, so we're not interested in a character's skill in areas that are unlikely to come up in the game. If the game takes place on a deserted island, your character's hacking abilities are irrelevant. Trademarks are somewhat aspirational: by taking a Trademark in something, you're letting the GM know that you want your character to regularly get to do it during the game. 

Drawbacks are things the character is bad at doing: Bad Liar, Hard of Hearing, 90-pound Weakling, etc. It's important to understand that drawbacks are areas where the character lacks ability, not just unfortunate situations or disadvantages. Drawbacks penalize the character when he tries to make a specific kind of roll. If you can't clearly define what sorts of rolls are affected, the trait probably works better as a Hook. Character don't have to take any Drawbacks, and many characters in fiction don't have any. In most books and TV shows, Drawbacks are the kind of things that show up as running gags.  


Stats are traits that only exist to make the game mechanics work. 

Hero Factor is sort of like level and abstractly defines how badass the character is. Most characters start the game with a Hero Factor in the 3-5 range. Characters add Hero Factor to all rolls and it's used in numerous other ways. 

Acclaim works more or less like Yum Yums in QAGS. The main difference is that it's awarded by group consensus (by means of a thumbs up or thumbs down) rather than GM fiat (though the GM's vote is always the tiebreaker). 

Stamina starts out equal to Hero Factor x 5 and gets reduced when characters take damage. If a character reaches 0 Stamina he takes a Wound (which represents a significant injury). Characters can regain Stamina by taking a Recovery Round, which they're allowed to do a number of times per Scene equal to their Hero Factor. The character usually returns to full Stamina at the end of a Scene. Wounds take a lot longer to get rid of. 

Special Effects are rules for any character traits (usually concept traits) that require them. For example, a character with the Hook of "Werewolf" might need rules for transforming, stats when in wolf form, and taking damage from silver weapons, each race in a fantasy setting might have its own static list of Special Effects, or a wizard character may need spell points or a list effects for the spells he knows.  

I already discussed the last two items on the character sheet (Plot Developments and Trivia) last week. One thing that's come up in playtesting is confusion about which traits should be Tropes, which should be Trademarks, and which are just Trivia. In some cases it depends on he ability (something that's constant and never requires a roll shouldn't be a Trademark) and even more often it's a matter of player preference and game context, but here's an example that might help, using the "Comic Book Fan" trait:

  • For Seeley Booth in Bones, it's trivia. The scene where he's reading Green Lantern in the bathtub with a beer helmet is amusing, but comic book fandom isn't a major facet of the character.  
  • For Xander in Buffy, it's probably a "Comic Book Geek" Hook. It's very unlikely to be relevant to any plot point that comes up, but it's important for characterization since it tell the player he should make lots of comic references.
  • If you're playing a game where the PCs get transported from our world to Gotham City, "Comic Book Fan" would be a Trademark because it's an area of character knowledge that's likely to become relevant to the plot of the story.

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Cinemechanix Design Journal 12: Character Creation, Part 2.
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