Cinemechanix: Edges Re-Re-Visited

Category: Cussin' In Tongues
Created on Friday, 07 December 2018 Written by Steve

One thing that’s always slightly bugged me about “make up any skill” systems (like QAGS and Cinemechanix) is that they tend to encourage generic skills over specific skills that are more relevant to the character. Let’s say I have three characters: Inigo Montoya, The Man In Black, and Fezzik and they’ve each got 2 points to spend on Edges. Inigo Montoya puts his points in Swordsman, The Man In Black puts his into Melee Combat, and Fezzik puts his into Unarmed Combat. This makes Westley Inigo’s equal in fencing, Fezzik’s equal in unarmed combat, and for that matter Ash’s equal in chainsaw fighting. While this actually makes perfect sense story-wise, most players are going to choose the Man in Black option and give Inigo and Fezzik Melee Combat 2 as well, which means that Inigo and Fezzik are equally matched whether they’re fencing or wrestling or hitting each other with rabid badgers. Inigo and Fezzik could take 1 in Melee Combat and 1 in their specialty (so they’re evenly matched with the Man in Black but not one another), but they’re still kind of being punished for taking a skill that more accurately describes the character over one that’s more useful. 

In order to at least slightly incentivize choosing the more relevant skills, I’m actually stealing a mechanic from Anyworlds, the first game I ever wrote, which allowed two degrees of specialization. In Anyworlds they were called Specializations and Emphases, but I don’t like those terms for Cinemechanix because they’re very skill-centric and Edges aren’t limited to skills. Also, I never liked “Emphasis” much anyway. I think it’s because of the plural form sounds weird. I ended up going with “Tag” and “Focus.” 

So far Cinemechanix has been using quickie rules for character creation (you get a number of Edge bonuses equal to your Hero Factor), and in that system I’m not really sure how Tags and Focuses work (maybe you can just take them for free if you want them, or get ½ Hero Factor Tags and Focuses or something). For the latest version of the rules, though, I’m adding in a character point system that makes the theory work a little better. Here’s a quick overview of the costs and mechanics:

  • Edges cost 5 points and give you a dice bonus equal to the rating. So for 10 points you could buy Melee Combat with a +2 dice boost. 
  • A Tag gives you an additional die bonus. The first Tag for an Edge costs 2 points. If you want multiple tags, each beyond the first costs 2 extra points: 4 for a second Tag, 6 for a third, etc. 
  • A Focus costs 1 point and allows you to add your Hero Factor to the roll. In addition to making Tags and Focuses mechanically distinct, this gives the more specialized character a lot of bang for his buck [probably too much, see below]. You can only have 1 Focus per Tag. 

So, let’s look at how this works mechanically with Westley and Inigo (we’ll assume Fezzik follows Inigo’s lead, but with unarmed combat instead of swordsmanship). We’ll give them each a Hero Factor of 6. If we assume they’ve both got Trademarks that apply to sword fighting, they’re both rolling d20 + d6 before factoring in edges.  

The totally cool dude who dresses all in black and is, like, a complete badass uses his 10 points to buy Melee Combat 2. That raises his Hero Die to d10, which means he’ll roll somewhere between 2 and 30 with an average of 16. The standard deviation is 5.4, so most of Westley’s rolls will fall in the 10-22 range. 

The Spaniard spends 5 points on Melee Combat 1 and 2 points on a Tag of Swordsman. If he stops there, he’ll roll the same as Westley for a sword fight but only a little less if they’re punching each other (assuming he still gets his Trademark, he’d roll d20 + d8, for a range of 2-18, average of 15, and typical range of 10-20). Of course, he’s not going to stop there. He’s going to spend the extra character point for a Focus in Fencing, so now he’s adding his Hero Factor to his swordfighting. That means he’s rolling d20 + d10 + 6, which gives him a range of 3-36, an average roll of 22, and a typical range of 15 and 28. Plus he’s got 2 character points left over to spend elsewhere. 

And now that I look at the numbers, Focuses are too powerful. At this point, Inigo’s average rolls are about the same as Westley’s highest typical rolls, which kind of kills the “equally matched” premise. Since for some reason I feel that Cinemchanix needs to be able to recreate The Princess Bride, let’s revise the Focus rule slightly.

New Rule for Focuses: Instead of adding Hero Factor, add a bonus die equal to your (unmodified) Hero Die. 

With the change, Inigo now rolls d20 + d10 + d6 when he’s swordfighting Westley. His range is still 3-36, but his average comes down to 19.5 and his typical roll will be between 14 and 25. Still a bit higher than The Man In Black, but Westley probably had some Acclaim saved up for that first fight scene. And once we get away from the Cliffs of Insanity, giving the character with more relevant skills a slight advantage fits with the original purpose of adding these rules to begin with. 

There are still a couple of questions to consider here. Most obvious is whether this just encourages min/maxing in the other direction by taking a few Edges and giving each several Tags, each with a Focus. The other is whether this actually solves the problem without creating a structured skill list with a set hierarchy. If we leave it freeform, one player can have Guns as a Tag and Pistols as a Focus for his Veteran Edge, while another could takes Guns as his Edge with Pistols as a the Tag and Colt Desert Eagle as the Focus. The first character is much more versatile (Veteran can include a lot of non-gun rolls) and gets the same roll with any pistol that the more specialized character only gets with the Colt. Have I just added complexity without solving the problem? If so, does the complexity offer other benefits that make up for not solving the original problem? Those questions are going to take some unpacking, so I’ll save them for next week. 

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Cinemechanix: Edges Re-Re-Visited.
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