Earlier this week I posted the Hobomancer sample game for Cinemechanix to the playtest group (as well as the second playtester survey). It turns out that condensing the background from a 150 page book into a few paragraphs is not an easy task, and the sample games in general require more work than I expected. I originally thought the sample games would be in the 5-10 page range, but Team Alpha Force 37 came in at 27 and Hobomancer is 34. Some of the page count is due to big fonts and inefficient layout (especially of stat blocks), so they'll shrink down in the actual PDF/book, but there's still a lot of content (the Hobomancer sample game is just under 13,000 words). It's tempting to cut down the number of sample games (I originally planned on 10) to keep the page count down, but I think I'll stick to the plan. I want plenty of examples in the book to illustrate how you can adapt the basic rules concepts to different kinds of games. The next one I'm working on (working title Summer Camp Monster Mash) is a game about a summer camp for monsters. It's sort of Hotel Transylvania meets Wet Hot American Summer.
A few weeks ago I posted a sample Cinemechanix character, but didn't really offer much explanation for those who haven't read the rules. I originally planned to do it the next week, but got sidetracked, so I'm going to start on that today. Before we start get into the stats, there are a two things to understand:
- Cinemechanix is a storytelling game, so players "win" by helping to tell a good story, not by exploiting the game rules. Since I'm not writing a strategy game where all players need to start at roughly the same power level, I'm not worried about game balance. As long as the story includes obstacles that require Kryptonian powers as well as obstacles that require trick arrows, Superman and Green Arrow are both viable characters despite the fact that Clark has a ton of flashy super-powers and Ollie just has a bow. GMs need to keep players from making characters who are so powerful that they overshadow the other characters (in order to keep everyone else from quitting the game) or so versatile that it's impossible to challenge them (because stories where characters don't overcome any meaningful challenges are bad stories), but that's better accomplished through good judgement than through some arbitrary point system.
- The character sheet for a Cinemechanix character isn't a resume or inventory, so it's not meant to describe everything about the character. It describes the character at a certain time within a certain context, namely the time and context of the story. Players don't need game mechanics for things that are outside the scope of the story. We don't care about Carl Winslow's ability to chase down a bad guy or shoot a gun because "Family Matters" is a sit-com, not a cop show. On the off chance Carl has to do cop stuff, the GM will probably give him a bonus and the player can always spend Acclaim (Cinemechanix Yum Yums) if he wants to nail the roll. If the inevitable Netflix reboot is a cop show called "Winslow on Patrol," Reginald VelJohnson will have to make a new character sheet that describes Carl in the new context.
A Cinemechanix character sheet is broken down into three main sections (plus two other sections that are basically notes):
The Character Concept consists of Role, Backstory, Fatal Flaw, Game-Specific Traits (like Race or Hogwart's House or Secret Identity), Hooks (things that make the character special or unusual), Tag Line, and Who Would Play Him/Her In The Movie?. The Character Concept describes who the character is. You can think of this information as what the people in charge of a movie or TV show use to build the character. It helps decide what kind of things the character says and does, what kind of make-up, wardrobe, props, and special effects are required, and what actors or actresses to consider for the role.
Tropes describe things a character is good at (Trademarks) or bad at (Drawbacks). They're often based on things established in the character concept (a character with a "Cop" Role may have a "Shoot Bad Guys" Trademark), but don't necessarily have to be. If you think of Concept as adjectives, Tropes are verbs; they're things the character does (or does badly). Continuing the TV/movie analogy, these are the things that the actor has to convince the audience he's doing (often with help from stunt doubles, special effects people, etc.).
Stats are traits that are purely necessary to make the game work. In the movie analogy, they're kind of like the wires and harnesses used for a stunt in an action movie. You have to have them, but don't want the audience to see them. Stats include Hero Factor (an abstract measure of badassitude), Acclaim (more or less Yum Yums), Stamina (for measuring damage), and Special Effects (other special rules, like how much damage a Werewolf character takes from silver weapons).
The two remaining areas of the sheet are Plot Developments and Trivia. In Cinemechanix, story arcs are equated with seasons of a TV show and characters "level up" at the end of the season. In television, nothing is permanent until it survives into the new season, so Plot Developments is a place for recording temporary rules changes until the season ends and the player and GM decide whether or not they hang around. In Buffy, for example, Xander would probably get the "Missing An Eye" Drawback as a Plot Development when his eye gets destroyed in Season 7. When Season 8 starts (in the comic), he's adjusted well enough that the Drawback goes away and the fact he's missing an eye becomes a Hook. Trivia is a place for the player to write down dumb facts and other notes about the character.
Next week, I'll go into more detail about what the different traits mean and how they work.
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Kind of a slow week on Cinemechanix playtest. I've got the Hobomancer sample game almost finished and will hopefully be posting it next week, but otherwise there's not much going on right now, so I'm going to take a break from the design journal this week and talk about cyberpunk vampires. I've been watching True Blood, because apparently I want to be reminded of every World of Darkness game ever played, so I know why I've got vampires on the brain. Not sure where the cyberpunk part of it came from.
As you probably know, your classic cyberpunk stories usually have different subcultures who add hardware and get genetic modifications as a fashion statement. There's usually a vampire subculture of people who get retractable fangs and dress up like rejects form a Cure video. Those people are posers. If you really want to be cyberpunk vampire, you need to do some internal work so you can actually sustain yourself on blood. Depending on how many liberties the game takes with science, a vamp who's had the right mods may be able to live off of any old blood or might have to drink from well-paid blood dolls whose blood has been enhanced so it's got all the necessary vitamins and minerals and shit. If you want to really sell your vampirism, you can also get some subdermal hologram projectors that make it look like you're on fire when sunlight hits (without causing any actual damage, of course). It may also be possible to tweak cloaking tech to make you not show up in a mirror without actually making you invisible. Tech that emits a subliminal signal of some kind or drugs in your own blood can mimic vampire mind control (though in the latter case it only works if the person you want to hypnotize drinks your blood first).
Since a stake through the heart will take out normal humans, you can condition yourself to hate garlic, and goths are already put off by most religious symbols, you've just got two traditional vampire traits to figure out. Shapeshifting isn't going to happen without allowing for really crazy technology (though retractable bat wings for that Santanico Pandemonium look might be doable), so let's focus on the ability to create progeny. All that requires is some very genre-appropriate exploitation of the less fortunate. Just use daddy's money to dangle some cool mods in the faces of people who can't afford them but want to be part of the vampire crowd. The progeny probably don't get the full vamp package of course, but they get enough to get past the bouncer. The fine print in the agreement also provides for something to keep them in line. The cheap version is just a brain bomb that the sire can set off, but depending on the tech it could as complicated as something that allows the sire to remotely access the progeny's sensory organs and override their brain, basically turning the progeny into a puppet.
When the sires get a little older, most of them probably outgrow wallowing in the unbearable angst of their privileged lives, just like goths in the real world. They reverse and remove all the mods and get day jobs, take over the family business, start their own fashion line, or whatever respectable young elites do in the dystopian future. The progeny, meanwhile, still have their fangs and technological leashes and can be called upon by their now-upright citizen masters whenever they're needed. There are probably some who never outgrow their vampire stage and start their own vampiric conspiracy, secret society, or corporation, complete with Byzantine organizational structures, political intrigue, and terrible accents. If they can stop LARPing long enough, they might evolve into a potential employer or enemy of the PC group.
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Last week I posted Captain Deity, a character from Team Force Alpha 37, which is the first of a series of sample game set-ups we'll be including in the Cinemechanix core rule book. The full sample game is posted in the playtest group if you want to see the rest of the characters and all the other info about Team Force Alpha. I'm really happy that I finally got to do something with these characters because they're an important part of QAGS history that we've never gotten around to using. The Team Force Alpha 37 characters were the PCs in what was (kind of) the first QAGS game ever.
The first "QAGS" game actually happened before Leighton and I had any idea that there was such a thing as QAGS. Have you ever seen the Creator's Universe Card Set? If not, you're missing out. Leighton and I found this little gem at Red Rock, the comic shop where I worked, one day. It's a set of maybe 80 cards featuring various characters from creator-owned worlds. Some of these were actual comic book characters, like Kid Death and Fluffy and a few characters from Sin City. Others were really bad Liefield-esque characters with names like "Nitemaere" and "Weezul" (who was accompanied by rocket-powered ninja squirrels). By the way, all of them were spelled in the most wrong way possible, in the classic Image mold. After looking through a few of the cards, Leighton and I knew what we must do: We had to run a game with these horrible characters, and equally horrible ones of our own.
Thus was born Mega Hyper M Force X7 (we changed the name of the team every time we said it). With characters like A.X.X.E., Captain Deity, Tonguelash (this was before Dark Horse published a comic of the same name; she's now Tongue Twister), Psy-Chick, Hoz, Zippo, the gritty loner Hotpantz, and an alien named Oriface, what could go wrong? Leighton and I set a date for the big game, hung up some signs at Red Rock, told all of our friends, and got ready for hours of wacky fun.
Cut to 7p.m. the following Monday. Leighton and I have made up our cast of characters and are waiting for people to arrive. Then we realize something: We don't have a plot...or a game system. That was okay, though. I'd recently been tossing the idea that would eventually become QAGS around, so we wrote a few vague stats and numbers from 1 to 20 on some sheets of paper (the real character sheets were the drawings Leighton had prepared earlier, after all) and figured we'd wing it from there.
Then, in what would become the first of many five-minute planning sessions, Leighton and I came up with a plot. It was a superhero game, so we figured we'd have the characters fight something. It needed to be lame, and luckily Mr. Connor had just the thing: The HUMORALS! You're probably wondering what the hell a humoral is. Well, you know how the Greeks had four elements, which led to the concept of elementals? There were also four bodily humors. You can guess the rest. Their names were, of course, Bloodbath, Bilestrike, Phlegmstorm, and Melankillia!
So, there we were with everything all ready to go. We were missing only one thing: players. Well, not entirely. A couple of people did show up. They were commonly known as "Hatboy" and "Greaseball" and were not the type of player we really wanted. Leighton and I spent the next hour or so trying to find somebody else to join us--sadly, to no avail. However, Hatboy and Greaseball really wanted to play our "Superhero game" and we were wired to run it, so we bit the bullet and ran for these putzes.
We decided that each of these morons would play two characters, and they would have to decide based entirely on our brief descriptions. They ended up with Captain Deity, Hotpantz, Tonguelash, and I believe A.X.X.E. The other PCs were run alternately by Leighton and me as NPCs.
At first, the "system" we were using required high rolls. Later in the evening, it required low rolls. Later still, Leighton and I threw out any pretense of a system and just made shit up. We enjoyed ourselves immensely. We had millions of cut scenes to things that had nothing to do with the game. We randomly pulled out cards from the Creators Universe set and had those characters make cameos. At some point, we pulled out a character named Morganna and decided that she was really Morgan LeFay. This obviously meant that team's mentor, The Mysterious Dr. M (a really old and senile bald guy) was secretly Merlin, so we introduced this as a subplot. As some of you may know, Leighton and I can communicate vast amounts of information with a simple note. I think the entirety of this subplot was based on the scribble 'Morganna=Morgan L' to which Mr. Connor scribbled 'Revenge Merlin (Dr)' or something equally arcane.
Like I said, it was fun. Dr. M recited grocery list instead of mission briefings; humorals attacked; roket-powered ninja squirrels flew into wood chippers; Captain Deity was thrown through walls, causing buildings to collapse and civilians to die; Oriface tried to eat things (or mate with them, nobody was quite sure). There was only one scary thing: the players never seemed to catch on. They never figured out that the game was a parody of bad Image comics. They played the whole thing as a serious, gritty, superhero adventure. And they never figured out that we had no plot or system, even though it was VERY obvious. After an hour or so the "player characters" became little more than foils in our own epically bad Image comic. Once we started ignoring Hatboy and Greaseball (except for a token "roll your superpower" every now and then), things just got better.
And that was the first game of QAGS ever, even though we didn't know it at the time. While it wasn't the best beginning, it was the first game where we fully embraced the idea of just making things up and telling a fun story without worrying too much about the rules.
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I've spent most of this week working on the first sample game, which is about terrible Image-style 90s super-heroes. It's turned out a long longer than I expected, but that's in part because I went a little overboard with the character backgrounds (at least half of the document is character information). I'm hoping to finish up the last few bits and post it to the playtest group later today. In the meantime, I thought I'd show you what a character for the game might look like. I chose to go with Captain Deity, since his abilities include some good examples of adding custom rules.
High school football star Mike Deity left Nebraska and joined the army right after graduation. After returning from Operation Desert Storm, he was selected as a Special Forces candidate, but before he could complete his training he was recruited into a top secret program called Project Helios. Although he didn’t realize it at the time, his role in the project was that of test subject in an experimental program that sought to create the first “solar powered soldier.” The project was a partial success, giving Deity the ability to store solar energy and channel the sun’s energy, but the human body proved to be a less than stable storage receptacle for so much energy. When Sergeant Deity “went supernova” and exploded with the energy of five atomic bombs, Project Helios was discontinued.
Although Mike’s component atoms were strewn throughout time and space by the explosion, his consciousness ended up on a non-corporeal plane of pure light. Assuming that this was the tunnel of light to Heaven, Deity waited for St. Peter to lead him home, but St. Peter never came. The tedium and isolation of what seemed to be an eternity of waiting caused Mike to lose all hope and come to terms with the realization that existence was a meaningless exercise that led nowhere. When he awoke back on earth some time later, two years had passed. Mike has never satisfactorily determined how or why Dr. M managed to reassemble his body and pull his consciousness back into it, but his return to the world of the living has given him a tiny glimmer of hope that life has meaning.
Role: Brooding Team Leader
Backstory: All-American Soldier
Fatal Flaw: Nihilism: Since his return to the world, Captain Deity has had trouble convincing himself that anything matters. As long as he keeps busy he can avoid thinking too much about the meaninglessness of existence. When he’s faced with a situation that seems overwhelming or unwinnable, however, his natural inclination is to just give up. He gets maudlin when he spends too much time alone with his thoughts.
Power Theme: Solar Battery (can use solar energy to increase strength, resist injury, fly, create light, and shoot solar blasts)
Origin Story: Failed Military Experiment
Costume: Black spandex suit with yellow trim and sunburst chest design
Hooks: Legally Dead, Moody, Unstable Powers
Tag Line: “I’m gonna light you up!”
WWPHITM? Alexander Skarsgard
Trademarks: Solar Blast (2 Dice), Kick In Some Teeth (2 Dice), Feats of Strength (1 Die), Commanding Presence (1 Die)
Hero Factor: 6
Solar Points: 60
Solar Battery: Captain Deity’s body act stores solar energy. He can use this energy to increase his physical power and speed, resist damage, heal himself, and even fly. He can also release deadly blasts of solar energy from any part of his body. Captain Deity’s solar energy reserves are measured in Solar Points. His maximum Solar Point capacity is equal to his Hero Factor times 10. His specific abilities, along with Solar Point costs, are:
- Flight: Captain Deity’s flight ability doesn’t cost Solar Points, but he can add Bonus Dice up to his Hero Factor to any flight roll by spending 5 Solar Points per Die.
- Increased Strength & Speed: Captain Deity gets a Concept Bonus and appropriate Trademark Dice for strength and speed rolls at no cost. He can add additional Bonus Dice to the roll up to his Hero Factor at a cost of 5 Solar Points per die.
- Resist Damage: Captain Deity can resist any or all damage from an attack by spending 1 Solar Point for each point of Stamina loss he wants to avoid.
- Accelerated Healing: Captain Deity can spend Solar Points to recover lost Stamina at the rate of 2 Solar Points per point of Stamina recovery. He can also repair any Wound he has received for 20 Solar Points.
- Solar Blast: A Solar Blast aimed at an individual only costs 1 Solar Point. If Captain Deity wants to use an area effect Solar Blast, he must spend Solar Points equal to the radius of the blast in feet. He can add Bonus Dice (up to his Hero Factor) to either version for 5 Solar Points per Die.
All of Captain Deity’s powers stop working if he drops below 5 Solar Points. Captain Deity recovers lost Solar Points from direct exposure to sunlight. If he’s outside and the day is reasonably clear, he regains a Solar Point every 2 minutes. If he’s indoors but still exposed to the sun’s rays (for example, through a large window) or the day is overcast, he recovers more slowly (as determined by the GM). He doesn’t recover any Solar Points for exposure to artificial light. For every 24 hours that Captain Deity is completely deprived of sunlight, he loses 10 Solar Points.
Unstable Powers: If Captain Deity rolls double 19s on any roll, he releases a massive solar blast centered on himself that uses up all his Solar Points. The radius of the blast is equal to the number of Solar Points he had when the blast occurred and the roll gets Bonus Dice equal to ⅕ of the blast radius. Captain Deity himself does not get a dodge roll and takes full damage from the blast.
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This week's blog is going to be short, because I've been busy this week. I posted a partial draft of the rules (mostly just the players/rules section) to the playtest group during the last week of January, and a couple of people have run some games using that draft. My goal was to get the full draft of the main rulebook finished and posted on Monday, but I got some other work that I'll get paid for much sooner come up towards the end of last week that cut into my writing time. I finally got everything finished up and posted at 3 a.m. Thursday morning (or about an hour before bedtime on Wednesday by my schedule).
This isn't the complete book, but the main rulebook is finished. The biggest section left to go are the game set-ups (which will hopefully get a fancier name) that will go at the end to provide players with examples of how you might use the system and enough basics to actually play the games. They're kind of much more detailed version of the sample campaigns in the Qik-Start Genre Guides at the end of QAGS 2E (and some of those campaign ideas will probably be expanded to game set-ups here). I wanted to have the first game set-up in this draft, but that didn't happen. I'm working on it now and will hopefully post it sometime next week. There will probably also be some more appendices: worksheets, dumb tables, that sort of thing.
For those of you who want to take a look at the game but aren't sure if you want to get involved in the playtest group, I've uploaded a copy to dropbox that you can check out. Feel free to share the link, but I ask that you follow the playtester guidelines at the beginning and refrain from re-posting the file publicly (I can do it because it's my game). If you want the character sheet, the sample games when I get them finished, and other goodies (including some character sheets, cheat sheets, and playtest reports others have posted), you'll have to bite the bullet and join the playtest group. Also, keep in mind that this is an unedited first draft. Except for whatever incidental editing other Hex people have done as they've read the draft and rewriting I've done as I've re-read sections, this is all straight from my brain to the keyboard and nobody's cleaned up my errors and bad habits (expect weasel words galore). That will come later once we make sure the core rules and concepts are solid.
Sponsoring me on Patreon will help me free up time to stay on schedule.