Cinemechanix: Maybe Getting Somewhere

Category: Cussin' In Tongues
Created on Friday, 25 January 2019 Written by Steve

I think all the thinking out loud for the last couple of months is starting to pay off, because I’m starting to see a path to make Cinemechanix work the way I want it to. The last few posts are still mostly relevant, but I’ve made a few changes and circled back to Inigo and friends from a slightly different direction. As far as the core parts of character creation, here’s what I’ve got. 


The six core attributes are the ones I discussed last week: Brawn, Agility, Precision, Brains, Ego, and Instincts. I still like the idea of a 7th “wild card” ability that can kind of work like Trademark, but I’m still trying to decide how to make the stat mechanically interesting without adding confusing exceptions and special rules (if that’s even possible). I’ve also decided to pass on the “skills assigned to attributes determine the attribute” idea. It’s kind of interesting in theory, but requires lots of concept-jumping to explain and is bound to cause weirdness for leveling up. Here are the basic attribute rules, along with random thoughts/analysis: 

  • An attribute of 0 is considered average. The maximum value (positive or negative) that a character can have in an attribute is ½ Hero Factor (rounded down). So a Hero Factor 4 character’s attribute range is -2 to 2. 
  • Attributes start at 0. Players get a number of Attribute points equal to Hero Factor. Taking a negative score in an attribute gives you the same number of points to spend elsewhere. So a HF 3 character has 3 points to spend on Attributes. If he takes a -1 Brains, he gets an extra point to put somewhere else. 
  • For each point of an Attribute, bump your Hero Die up by one for rolls based on that attribute. So if you’ve got a Hero Die of d4 and an Agility of 2, you’d roll d8 for Agility rolls. 
  • Negative attributes lower your Hero Die for rolls involving the attribute, so a character with a Hero Die of 4 and an Agility of -1 would roll d2 for Agility rolls. An Agility of -2 would reduce the Hero Die to 0, meaning the character only rolls the free d12. 
  • Going with ½ Hero Factor means that your lowest attribute die is 0 (no need to worry about a low attribute cutting into the free die that even mooks get, which may be important later). Using the same figure for the maximum means that at most Attribute and Hero Factor are equally important to the final die. If you’ve got a Hero Factor 4 and a Brawn of 2, you double your Hero Die, but you can’t get an Attribute high enough to triple it. 
  • Tying attribute to the Hero Die also leads to a neat scaling-type effect since an Attribute of 2 for a Hero Factor 4 character is the same as a Hero Factor 8 character with an Attribute of 0, so a super-hero with a Brawn of 2 is automatically stronger than a hero cop with a Brawn of 2, thanks to the difference in Hero Factor. 

The d2

As you may have noticed, I’m bringing back the d2. It makes the math smoother. Since the main issue with the d2 was mechanical (they’re a pain in the ass to roll), I’m going to offer an optional method of dealing with d2s: instead of rolling the d2, roll everything else and add 1 if the roll’s a success, 2 if it’s a failure. Since 1 point is more likely to make a meaningful difference for a failed roll than a successful one (and could potentially flip a failure to a success), you basically always get a 2 for failed rolls in exchange for just taking a 1 on successes. When rolling for exploding dice, the d2 automatically rolls a 2. In addition to avoiding the roll, this kicks the minimum bonus for an exploding die up from +1 to +3, which is nice. 


Tags are the current name for skills/trademarks/edges and are tied to a specific Attribute. The player chooses the attribute, but it has to make sense. “Guns” works for Precision (shooting guns) or Brains (knowing a lot about guns), but doesn’t make much sense as a Brawn or Ego tag (if the character just hits people with guns, Clubs fits better; if he uses guns to threaten people, that’s Intimidation). If it’s not clear what the tag/attribute pairing means, it’s probably either too broad or needs a better name. For example, Crime (Brains) probably needs to be renamed either Criminology or Criminal Mastermind depending on whether the character studies or plans crimes.  Rules for Tags: 

  • Tags have a bonus value (+1, +2, etc.) that gets added to the final roll when the tag applies. So if you’ve got Hero Factor 4, Brawn 2, and Punch People +2, you’d roll d12 (free die) + d8 (Hero Die d4, bumped twice for Brawn), +2 (Punch People), resulting in a total between 4 and 24. 
  • If you’re rolling the attribute the tag is tied to, you roll the full bonus. 
  • If you’re rolling another attribute, the bonus maxes out at your score in the attribute you’re rolling. For example, you use Precision to shoot a gun. If you’ve got a Precision of 2 and a Gun Lore (Brain) at +4, your knowledge of guns only gives you a +2 for actually shooting them. In addition to leaving plenty of room for the ammosexual militia nut to shoot himself in the foot, this makes the association between the tag and the attribute mechanically meaningful. If you add the full tag regardless of attribute, the attribute/tag association doesn’t really matter mechanically.  
  • Starting points for attribute tags is Hero Factor x 2. 
  • Buying tags is where I’m kind of circling back to the specializations idea, but in a little different way. Instead of having nested tags (Guns-->Submachine Guns-->Uzi 9mm with the Laser Sighting), each tag stands alone, but there are 3 categories with different point cost per bonus. Broad tags (things like Melee Weapons, Burglary, or Science) cost 4 points per +1; Normal tags tags (Blades, Breaking and Entering, Biology--more or less your standard RPG-type traits) cost 2 points per +1; and Narrow Traits (Swords, Lockpicking, Botany) cost 1 point per +1. 
  • Here’s the new part: The maximum bonus for a tag depends on how broad or narrow it is. Broad tags can only go up to your Attribute (so if you’ve got an Brawn of 0, you can’t have any broad Brawn tags). Normal traits are limited by Hero Factor. Narrow Traits can be as high as you want them to be (assuming the lack  of a maximum doesn’t prove rife for abuse in playtesting).
  • It’s up to the GM to decide whether a trait is broad, normal, or narrow, but I’ve got a feeling that the vast majority of Broad and Normal tags for a given game settting are going to show up in the sample list. Most of the neat player-generated skills that make freeform skills fun are going to fall into the “narrow” category anyway. The sample list should also give the GM a solid starting point for ruling on whether a skill is Broad, Normal, Narrow, or too broad (putting “Melee” on the list under Broad implies that “Combat” is too broad, for example). 

There will no doubt be some changes (especially for starting points and such) once these rules hit an actual game, but I think this is a fairly solid starting point. More to come.

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Cinemechanix: Maybe Getting Somewhere.
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