View Full Version : Cinematic Roleplaying

2013-03-09, 08:35 AM
OK, so I'm designing a roleplaying system and I want to incorporate a much more 'cinematic' feel than the typical "Oh you rolled poorly. Your character dies unceremoniously" style most RPGs seem to have.

The problem is that, without the meaningful threat of character death, how do you make things like combat, traversing narrow mountain ledges and jumping over lava-filled pits exciting and memorable?

Now, before you reply I should fill in some of the details of the system in question.

1)No DM. This is probably not something I'll be holding on to, but I really wanted there to be a feel of "collaborative storytelling" over "GM running a game for the Players". The way I'm thinking this will work is that the Players determine the nature of the scene and how difficult it will be by a random factor and fill in the details between them.

For example; The "random factor" determines that the scene will be a moderately difficult physical challenge. The Players decide, seeing as they haven't had a combat in a while, that they're going to have a fight against a bunch of common guards. The next scene "random factor" is an easy mental challenge, so the Players decide to have a 'tavern scene', where the challenge is getting some common info out of the barkeep.

2)Scenes and Story Arcs. Rather than having a map and planned events for the PC's to wander into, the pace and events are determined by what the Players want to do. In order to create a sense of high points and low points and introduce variety, the aforementioned method of determining the nature of a given scene will be implemented by normal playing cards. By creating a "Story Deck", consisting of one each of each card (Ace to King) of random suit (where each suit represents a different type of challenge, e.g. Spades = Physical), you can guarantee that you'll have highs and lows and probably a variety of different challenges.

3)Challenge resolution. The mechanics behind solving the challenge in a Scene are intentionally simple, as are Player Character stats. There's no "health", "armour class" or any secondary stats at all. You just have (what amounts to) Strength, Agility, Intelligence and Courage, plus some situational bonuses. This is kind of where my problem arises. I don't want to introduce the kind of "death spiral" that you see in other games with such simple mechanics, like Risus, but similarly, without any 'punishment' for failing a challenge, beyond what you (as a group) decide, I can't help but think that there's no incentive to impose a penalty.

So, without a complex stat-set and no GM to impose arbitrary or ad-hoc penalties, what kind of rule might I be able to implement to make resolving challenges feel like more than a bunch of guys fumbling around for a resolution to the scene?

Also, as a corollary, on the subject of the "cinematic" feel; how might I implement significant character death? As implied earlier, I don't want characters dying from Orc_Warrior3 stabbing him in the face, unless Orc_Warrior3 later turns out to be the BBEG in disguise or somesuch. So, in order to make character death significant, a mechanic of "heroic death" giving a bonus is an idea I'm toying with. Thoughts?

Finally, just a general call for any thoughts on cinematic roleplaying in general.

2013-03-09, 08:58 AM
The solution isn't in the way you write the rules but in the way you plan the story: the players should make sure that while there is little to no chance of their characters actually dying, their failure to accomplish their objective will have visible consequences. Failing to overcome the challenge may not kill the characters, but it may delay them or force them to try something else, as a result of which something bad happens to something or someone the players care about.

2013-03-09, 08:58 AM
I can't remember the name, but there's an RPG centered around Hong Kong style movies (like Police Story or Jet Li movies).
It has a "Nope, that round did not happen, I'm the STAR here!" mechanic.

You could also take a look at savage worlds. While that game in particular is quite random and consequently deadly, the Bennie concept (basically a pool of rerolls, but allow different stuff, like soaking damage) might suit your needs.

2013-03-09, 09:32 AM
The solution isn't in the way you write the rules but in the way you plan the story

Given the random story arc, though, this can be hard to implement on a case-by-case basis. I considered implementing something along the lines of a successful Scene making the next Scene easier and a failed Scene making the next Scene harder.

To take a cinematic example; Conan the Barbarian. He obviously succeeds on the "battle in the ruins" scene near the end, the upshot of which is that the princess is willing to help him in the next scene, allowing him to just stroll in to Thulsa Dooms Mountain of Power to kill him. Similarly, failing on his "blend into the crowd" Scene when he first goes to the Mountain and gets mauled by the mob, leads to him failing the next scene of "trying to justify himself to the bad guy" and getting nailed to the Tree of Woe, which in turn makes the next scene of "survive being crucified" pretty darn hard!

2013-03-09, 09:57 AM
Theatrix is supposedly designed to emulate an action movie in rping. For the kind of film MrLemon is referring to, Wushu would probably be your best bet. Otherwise, you could look into the mechanics of Forge-style games, like Polaris, Archipelago, Dogs in the Vineyard, or anything from 1km1kt.

2013-03-09, 10:03 AM
Given the random story arc, though, this can be hard to implement on a case-by-case basis. I considered implementing something along the lines of a successful Scene making the next Scene easier and a failed Scene making the next Scene harder.

I think it may work well. Or you could prepare a pool of consequences which are vague enough to fit into many cinematic situations should the PCs fail in a scene.

2013-03-09, 10:42 AM
Consider Raising the Stakes (http://www.adnd3egame.com/documents/E6Raising.pdf).

2013-03-09, 11:10 AM
One game I saw had the basic idea that the character's action is resolved in the fashion his player desires, but the dice roll determines how things go from there.

You swing your axe at the hydra, dealing it a mighty blow. The dice, however, are consulted merely to see what effect the attack has on the hydra, if any.

When the hydra's turn comes up, it might snap you up with six sets of jaws and worry you like a dog bone, but if the dice roll comes up badly for it, your heroic resolve permits you to stand and keep fighting.

2013-03-09, 11:28 AM
Use stake-setting. "In this scene, I'm trying to achieve X, and if I lose I suffer Y." Death can be used as a trump-card: you automatically succeed at achieving a goal in the scene, but you die heroically as a result.

2013-03-09, 12:08 PM
Microscope. (http://www.lamemage.com/)

You start on an epic scale, like "The history of man from 0-2000 AD."

Then each player gets a turn to decide on an age in that timeline.

Using the above example, we could have anything from the Roman Empire, to the industrial revolution.

Each new age comes with the opportunity for scenes. Each scene has characters the players roleplay, with definite beginnings and definite ends.

Don't want history? Okay. Microscope does anything you want it to. Make a new world, with a new set of gods. A world where our conventional laws of physics are not the same. A world with magic, or steampunk, or cyberpunk, or anything you want to.

Jack of Spades
2013-03-09, 01:10 PM
The various fate point systems around do a pretty good job of making player death less random.

If you don't know what the hell I'm talking about: Basically, some perilously-scarce pool of points (like, 3 or 4 per chapter per character) can be used for re-rolls and the like, or-- critically-- to avoid or soften wounds. In some systems, these points can used to make your character just barely avoid death, one way or another, regardless of how low their HP is.

Systems that use fate points tend to have the explicit goal of being more cinematic in feel, with the points existing to give characters a moment or two of awesome in each arc or session.

For some great examples of story-driven, GM-less games, I'd point you to Bully Pulpit Games. (http://www.bullypulpitgames.com/) They have demo's out for their major games, and a bunch of standalones, all of which are GM-less. There's a bunch of interesting resolution techniques in there, particularly the one for their game Durance, which gets explained in the free demo.

2013-03-09, 03:00 PM
The various fate point systems around do a pretty good job of making player death less random.

I've already got a 'limited resource' mechanic in there, so adding an extra one for Fate, or whatever, seems somewhat redundant. I was looking for something more consequential than retroactive.

"If A then B" rather than "If A is bad, then change A"

Consider Raising the Stakes.

Use stake-setting.

These I like. I could see a kind of 'bidding war' between players to enact the best scene, perhaps. Maybe even give players a pool to draw from that allows them to dictate aspects or consequences of a Scene (where only the winner "pays", which would allow every player a chance to 'win' a bid somewhere down the line).

2013-03-09, 03:22 PM
Legends of the Wulin seems like a good system to look at for this. While it has a GM and being a bit more complex than what you seem to be looking for, the underlying system has interesting things to learn from even so. Random death is impossible, the greatest level of injury is "taken out" which can be death, but if it is then it's a deliberate choice of whoever you fight. Also, rather than having an explicit health track, the entire system operates based on conditional buffs and debuffs, so a really nasty wound can be a broken arm, which gives them a penalty whenever the one it's inflicted on forgets to keep it properly limp and useless, just like someone delivering a really stinging argument against your ideological can give you penalties if you don't act hesitant and uncertain. Battles also frequently end before either party is taken out as everyone gets a single roll for having one of these effects applied to them at the end of every fight without any chance of protecting against it based on how many times they got hit, so the longer a fight drags the more risk there is of having some unpleasant condition happen to you, up to and including death. This gives a great incentive to both trying to surrender and run away and to accepting it.

Further, a big part of the game are the loresheets people can get entangled to. These are bits of setting description, such as locations, groups or philosophical concepts and entanglement essentially means that it becomes important to the story of that character, often in specific ways such as memberships of a group or learning the secrets behind some place. Characters normally start with fifteen points of it chosen by the player, but from then on all entanglement is given by either the GM or the other players in response to noteworthy actions taken. This means that the story will frequently work in unexpected directions based on choices made and actions taken, while also putting a lot of power in the hands of the players.

It might not be exactly what you want, but it's one way to approach the kind of issues that interest you, so I think it's worth checking out, at least. No physical copies are available at the moment, but it appears that it's still possible to buy the pdf version here (http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/product/97637/Legends-of-the-Wulin---pre-sales-edition).

2013-03-10, 04:19 AM

That looks very much like the sort of game I'm aiming for. Will definitely take a look. Thanks!

2013-03-10, 07:22 AM
I can't remember the name, but there's an RPG centered around Hong Kong style movies (like Police Story or Jet Li movies).

Feng Shui?

2013-03-10, 08:16 AM
Random aside:

Why is it that when people talk about "cinematic", they rarely talk about the kind of movie I like? :smalltongue:

2013-03-10, 08:25 AM
Why is it that when people talk about "cinematic", they rarely talk about the kind of movie I like? :smalltongue:

Well there's different types of movies, I suppose, but when talking about RPGs and cinema, there's a certain expectation that the characters are going to be the main focus. This lends itself to a certain style of both gaming play style and plot.

On the other hand, there's really nothing stopping a player from having a whole bunch of expendable characters and it still being "cinematic". In fact, one thing I've been trying to bear in mind whilst writing this game (which is not genre specific) is that death-a-minute-zombie-horror-holocaust is a game some people (myself included) will want to play, to name but one potential genre. I want to cater to that crowd too, amongst others, which is why a fate-point system or some of the systems suggested as being appropriate for "action" or "kung fu" style games aren't really appropriate for this game.

2013-03-10, 08:31 AM
Also not quite the kind of movie I mean. But "cinematic" to a lot of people, always seems to mean "action-heavy and fast-paced". There's so many more kinds of movie than that.

Now, you don't actually mean that, it's quite clear from your OP. But for a lot of people, that seems to be the association.

2013-03-10, 08:39 AM
Also not quite the kind of movie I mean.

I took a stab in the dark. Guess I missed :smallbiggrin:

But "cinematic" to a lot of people, always seems to mean "action-heavy and fast-paced". There's so many more kinds of movie than that.

Now, you don't actually mean that, it's quite clear from your OP. But for a lot of people, that seems to be the association.

Yes indeed. If you don't mind me asking, what kind of movies did you have in mind? As I mentioned, I'm trying to cater for all styles of game and I may have missed something.

2013-03-10, 09:11 AM
Eh, not sure. Movies that don't feature a lot of action? Some more psychological thrillers, or the calmer kind of spy movies. Political movies. Some of those adventure movies that focus more on visuals than action (though apart from having a lot of description, they probably wouldn't make good games.) Harder or weird science-fiction.

Let's just go with "heavy on the talking", for now?

2013-03-10, 11:31 AM
Hey, that's cool. One of the reasons I'm designing this game is to give as much focus to "action" as to any other aspect. Too many RPGs are just combat systems with some extra bits tacked on, in my opinion.

I think, when it's done, that my system will cater to a "heavy on talking" style. The character abilities are largely modular, to suit the style of the game, so whilst the base stats include the physical, the periphery abilities don't have to.

It's one of the reasons I didn't want a Health-bar...the consequences of a verbal exchange should be as damning as those of an exchange of sword blows. At least in cinematic terms!

2013-03-10, 03:16 PM
While you make a good point Eldan, I'd like to point out that JellyPooga's problem was maintaining tension while making PC death unlikely. In psychological thrillers, action-light spy movies or melodramas, life and limb of the protagonist aren't at stake anyway, so it's not a problem. You can have the PCs fail without putting them out of action.

2013-03-10, 04:10 PM
If you are trying to write a Cinematic RPG, I cannot second the recommendation that your read Wushu strongly enough.

The principle of narrative truth. (Basically what the player says happens, happens. And the veto seem to be what you're looking for. Also. People more go down, than die.)

Here is an example of play that Kiero on the RPG.net boards wrote up (Ie. not my work)


First up, the characters. There's the GM and three players, Alice, Bob and Chris (A, B and C!). They're playing a D&D-esque fantasy game.

Alice is playing Thorgan Hearthstone, a male cleric. His Traits are as follows:
Blessed Words 5 - Inspirational speeches, cleric magic, turning undead.
Soldier of the Temple 4 - Fighting in heavy armour.
Builder 3 - Knowledge of structures and construction.
Vows and Strictures 1 - Can't use edged weapons, must pray daily.

Bob is playing Althea a female sorceress. Her Traits are as follows:
Mistress of the Mysteries 5 - Indirect magics like conjuring and enchantments
Eldritch Ass-kicking 4 - Direct combat magic.
Of Noble Stock 3 - Giving commands and expecting to be obeyed.
Powerless Without Words and Gestures 1 - Needs to be able to speak and move to use her magic.

Chris is playing Walks-in-Shadows a male ranger. His Traits are:
Secrets of the Wild 5 - Tracking, bushcraft, stealth and so on.
Skirmisher 4 - Fast-moving combat.
Uncanny Insights 3 - Seeing and perceiving things others cannot.
Taboos 1 - Collection of things he won't do, including using a sword and killing non-combatants.

The characters are an adventuring party who have been tasked with rescuing villagers who were kidnapped by a cult. They've tracked the cult down to a grove deep in the woods. This is the final conflict of the game.


GM: You track the cult down to a glade deep in the forest. They are assembled in a kind of service, all robed and hooded in red. Only their leader, conducting the service has his hood down. The five villagers are staked out on the ground, the sounds of their sobbing and plaintive calls for mercy carry across to where the thre of you are hidden. The congregation begin a chant and something flashes in the cult leader's grasp - a sacrificial dagger!
A: Sounds a bit like the end of Brotherhood of the Wolf.
C: Kind of what I was thinking too.
GM: It was the red robes, wasn't it?
B: What's the scene goals here?
GM: Alright, getting to it, there's the Cult Leader who's a Nemesis. He's using Charismatic Speaker 5 and Demon-summoning Magics 4 in the main. He has 4 Chi.
B: The caster is mine!
GM: The cultists are an 18-point mook Threat Rating with a Yin toll of 1. There's a Secondary Goal attached to making the captives safe, that's a 6-pointer with a Yin toll of 1 not to cause any complications that might harm them. Might add more stuff as we go, depending.
C: Let's get at them!
GM: Hang on, the dice cap for the scene is six. Now go!

Round 1 - Describe

A: Stepping out into the glade, I draw a deep breath and proclaim: "This foul business ends here and now!"
C: Very cleric-y! While Thorgan draws the cultists attention towards him, Walks-in-Shadows ghosts off to one side between the trees, moving into a position on the group's flank.
GM: Hooded heads turn towards Thorgan and the cult leader looks up from the captives.
B: Althea joins Thorgan, standing a pace behind his left shoulder, a nimbus of power playing around her hands.
GM: The leader shrieks out "Kill them, kill them both!". Cultists reach for weapons underneath their robes and charge at Thorgan and Althea.
C: The ranger nocks an arrow and snipes at the cultists left guarding the captives. He drops one and puts an arrow through the hand of a second reaching for a weapon.
B: Althea gestures and a lightning bolt zaps the cult leader dead.
A: Veto! You can't take the leader out without even knocking his Chi down!
GM: She's right, you're going to have to amend that Detail.
B: Alright. Althea gestures and a lightning bolt streaks towards the cult leader.
GM: A wild-eyed cultist throws himself into the path of the bolt. "Witness the power of our faith!" the leader calls out as he begins to work magic of his own.
A: I brace myself for the first wave of them, shield forward and hammer held aloft and still. As the first one comes at me, I parry his stroke with my shield and knee him in the groin, crushing his head with my hammer.
B: "Keep them off me" Althea says to Thorgan readying a counter-spell.
A: "I'll do my best" I say to Althea, before headbutting a cultist who tries to grapple with me.
C: Cool image, lone fighter holding back the tides while the mage dukes it out with the cult leader.
A: "Now lets see what this poor excuse for a sorceror has up his sleeve." Althea adds.
GM: Nice pass too, dialogue earns Details just the same as description of stuff. "There are only two of them, cut them down and nothing will stop the glory of our master coming into this world!" The cult leader says as he continues to weave his magic. I think that's more than enough description to move on to resolving this round. Everyone at least reached the six Details if not more.

Round 1 - Resolve

GM: What are you targeting, what Traits are you using, and how are you splitting your dice?
C: I'd say mine was mostly Skirmishing 4, I'm going after the Secondary Goal to free the captives. I'll split my dice 4 Yang, 2 Yin.
A: I started off with some speechy stuff, but that was mostly fighting, so Soldier of the Temple 4, split 5 Yang and 1 Yin against the mook threat.
B: Eldritch Ass-kicking 4 against the Nemesis, I'll go with an even split this time around. What are you using for the cult leader?
GM: There was a bit of magic, but it was mostly talky stuff, exhorting his followers and all that, so Charismatic Speaker 5. I'm going with a 4 Yang, 2 Yin split.
A: Let's roll then.
B: I got 3,3,5 on my Yang and 5,1,4 on Yin. That means two of each flavour.
GM: I rolled 1,3,6,5 for Yang and 3,6 on Yin. So 3 Yang one Yin - so Althea and the cult leader both lose a point of Chi.
A: I rolled 1,6,2,5,1 on Yang and 1 on Yin. So I got the Yin success I needed to cover the toll and cut the mook Threat Rating by my three Yang successes.
C: I got 1,3,4,3 on Yang and 1,6 on Yin. So no complications with that Yin success, and I bring the Secondary Goal down to 2 points. Nice.
GM: OK, on to the next round. Just to recap, the mook TR is now 15/1, the captive secondary goal is 2/1 and the cult leader, and Althea have lost a point of Chi.

Round 2 - Describe

GM: More cultists join the fray against the increasingly threatened Thorgan, while a smaller number at the back turn their attentions towards the elusive threat of Walks-in-Shadows.
B: I want to rationalise my loss of Chi. Work with me GM, here goes. One of the cultists slips past Thorgan's diligent guard and makes for Althea, seeing an easy target. "I thought you were holding them!" She says to Thorgan.
A: "I'm doing the best I can!" I yell back, stoving in a cultist's chest with a solid blow.
B: As he raises his weapon, Althea gestures freezing him in place.
GM: In the heartbeat Althea's attention is off the cult leader, he strikes. Chanting a command word, shadowy tentacles rise from the ground, grapsing the sorceress. Their touch burns.
B: They burn through Althea's outer-most layers of magical protection, but before they reach her skin she utters the counter-spell, causing them to vanish.
A: My turn! Two of the cultists grasp the rim of my shield, trying to wrest it from me. Calling on the name of my god, I am infused with holy might, my armour, shield, holy symbol and hammer all glowing brightly. Momentarily stunned, the cultists fall back in fear. "The wrath of the pure is upon you." I declare, smashing one down with my shining hammer.
C: Walks-in-Shadows fires an arrow on the move, killing another of the guards, then casts his bow aside. Running into view in the clearing, a hachet in each hand, he charges headlong into the cultists angling his way.
GM: Cool. "Don't let him reach the sacrifices!" The cult leader screams gesturing in the direction of the ranger. The closest of them raises a weapon to Walks-in-Shadows.
C: Without even breaking his stride, the ranger ducks under the blow and cuts through the cultist's spine with an axe as he passes.
GM: The cult leader begins to chant, something Althea recognises as a summoning spell.
B: Althea calls out "Walks-in-Shadows, don't let him finish that spell!"
GM: Enough describing, lets resolve.

Round 2 - Resolve

GM: Usual drill.
A: Using my primary Blessed Words 5 this time, mostly buffing magical stuff. On the mook threat again, split 5 Yang 1 Yin this time.
C: Skirmishing 4, 3 Yang on the Secondary Goal, 2 on the mook threat and one against the Yin toll.
B: Eldritch Ass-kicking 4 on the Nemesis, 4 Yang 2 Yin.
GM: Nemesis is using Demon-summoning Magics 4, split even. Roll!
GM: I got 1,4,6 on Yang and 4,6,6 on Yin for 2 Yang and 1 Yin successes.
B: Ha! I got 5,2,4,2 on Yang and 2,2 on Yin for 3 Yang and 2 Yin. I lose nothing and the cult leader loses 2 Chi!
GM: So he's now down to 1 Chi.
A: I rolled 2,6,4,3,3 and 3, for 4 Yang and 1 Yin. Safe again and another chunk out the mook TR.
C: I got 5,3,2 on the SG, 1,4 on the mook TR and 5 on my Yin. So I lose a point of Chi, but the captives are safe and another 2 points out of the mook threat.
GM: Right, the mook TR is now 9/1, Chris gets to describe a Coup de Grace on the Secondary Goal at some point and the cult leader has only 1 point of Chi left. Soon as he goes negative, someone gets to describe a CdG on him. Now both Althea and Walks-in-Shadows have lost a point of Chi. Onwards!

Round 3 - Describe

C: I'm getting my CdG in now on the Secondary Goal. A guard falls dead on one of the captives, his belt knife within reach of the woman's hand. She uses it to cut the rope binding that hand, then in no time has it free and cuts the rest of her bonds. The cultists are busy with the interlopers and pay them no mind and she sets to work freeing the others.
A: Taking advantage of the momentary respite, I shield-charge the nearest cultist, pulverising his comrade before he can react. "Now Althea, hit them before they regroup." I roar.
B: Wasting no time, Althea forms the words of power and points at the cowering cultists. Sparkling motes glitter in the air for a moment, then a half-dozen of them topple to the ground, unconscious.
A: "What, no fireball?" I jibe Althea.
B: "I am capable of some subtlety, you know, priest." Althea retorts. "Besides we may wish to question some of them later."
C: The ranger parries the lunge of a spear with one axe, then takes the face off the owner with the other. He's working his way towards the cult leader as quickly as he can through his followers.
GM: There's a horrible keening sound coming from a patch of ground the cult leader seems intent on. As though the fabric of reality were being painfully parted. A pentagram appears in the soil, air shimmering like a heat-mirage above it.
C: Walks-in-Shadows swears, he'll never make it through at this rate. Drawing his arm back, he hurls one of his axes directly for the cult leader's head.
GM: The axe flies true, but strikes an invisible barrier inches away from skin, dropping to the ground importently. That'll do.

Round 3 - Resolve

GM: Call 'em.
B: Using Mistress of Mysteries 5 this time with some enchantment magics, on the mooks I guess. Go with a 5/1 split.
A: More butt-kicking with Soldier of the Temple 4, on the mooks, split 5/1 as well.
C: Straight Skirmishing 4 again for me, on the cult leader split 4/2.
GM: Cult leader is using Demon-summoning Magics 4, split 3/3. Roll 'em everyone!
GM: I get 3,2,3 on Yang and 2,1,2 on Yin for successes all across the board for the cult leader.
C: Mine's 4,2,3,2 on Yang, so four and 5,2 for one. That's a point of Chi each. He's on 0 I'm on 1.
GM: That means he's still in...just. Up to you if you want to rationalise that loss of Chi next round. Easy Detail.
A: I rolled 4,1,3,3,5 on Yang for all successes, but a 6 on Yin. So lose a point of Chi but take the mook TR down by 5.
B: I got 2,6,4,4,5 on Yang and 1 on Yin. So no loss of Chi and take the mook TR down another 3 points.
GM: To recap then, mook threat is a measly 1/1, Cult leader is on 0 Chi, and Althea and Walks-in-Shadows are both on 1 Chi. Only Thorgan still has a full complement of Chi.

Round 4 - Describe

GM: The cult leader finishes his incantation and the ground shakes and thunder rolls in the sky. A...thing materialises inside the summoning circle. Black as night with three glowing yellow eyes it is roughly the shape of a big cat with row upon row of spines upon its back. New Nemesis here if anyone wasn't clear.
A: "By all that is holy!" I exclaim marching to face this new threat. Brandishing my holy symbol high, it gleams with a pure light as I beseech my god to banish this abomination back to the plane from thence it came.
GM: The summoned thing roars in pain and levels its spines, a stuttering cough sounding as a volley come zipping Thorgan's way.
A: I level my shield, holding it firm as spines impact against it. Others patter off my armour, but fail to find a seam. One passes right through the shield and vambrace pinning my forearm. Pulling it all the way through, I whisper a prayer of healing that closes the wound as though it were never there.
B: "Walks-in-Shadows, stop the summoner." Althea calls out to the ranger.
C: "Anyone would think she was in charge." He mutters to himself as he cuts the last of the cultists in his path down. He draws his knife to replace the axe he threw in his left hand and runs at the leader.
GM: The cult leader's jaw distends and he spews forth a swarm of black flies. They stream towards Walks-in-Shadows, the biting, stinging cloud enveloping him.
C: Walks-in-Shadows closes his eyes and mouth, holding his breath and doing his best to ignore the pain. With gritted teeth he stumbles forward, a step at a time, towards the cult leader.
B: Althea focuses and sends a blast of wind towards the ranger, scattering the remaining cultists still in the fight before blowing the swarm clean off Walks-in-Shadows. She follows it with a lance of flame which vapourises the swarm in a gout of dirty smoke.
C: Neat! Walks-in-Shadows, now covered in livid boils, fights against the burning sensation in his skin and runs straight into the cult leader, knocking him flying with a shoulder-charge before he can form any more magics.
B: Back to the task at hand - the demon.
GM: If you're going after the demon too, I'll extend the cap for it.
B: Drawing deep into her reserves of strength, Althea seeks to unravel the bonds that hold the demon in this world.
GM: Roaring in irritation, it bounds towards the sorceress, accelerating alarmingly fast.
B: With a swipe of her hand, Althea peppers it with conjured bolts of energy, stopping it dead in its tracks. Thorgan takes advantage of the opening to charge into its flank. You're alright with that, A?
A: No probs, carry on.
GM: The demon takes a swipe at the cleric with its paws, disloding the spines from earlier and leaving rake-marks in his shield. Resolve!

Round 4 - Resolve

GM: The demon has 3 Chi and is using Otherworldly Predator 5 as its only Trait. I'll split its twelve Details equally between Thorgan and Althea. Going with 4/2 on each of them.
A: I'm going all out as well, a 5/1 split to do as much harm as possible, Blessed Words 5 again.
B: I'm putting a point against what's left of the mook threat, then splitting 3/2 against the demon. With Eldritch Ass-kicking 4.
C: Skirmishing 4 split 4/2 on the cult leader.
GM: He's using Demon-summoning Magics 4, split 3/3. Roll!
B: 4 on the mook threat to finish it, 1,6,3 for two Yang on the demon and 6,2 for 1 Yin. Oh dear.
A: 5,2,2,6,6 on Yang for three successes and 3 on Yin for one.
GM: I'll do the demon first, then you C. Against Althea 5,2,5,5 for four Yang and 2,5 for 2 Yin. So takes no hits on Chi and puts her on -2! That's a Coup de Grace. On Thorgan 6,4,3,2 on Yang for 3 and 6,5 for one Yin success. So it's down to 1 and so's Thorgan.
C: For Walks-in-Shadows I rolled 2,4,6,2 for 3 Yang successes and 3,2 for two Yin.
GM: He rolls 1,3,5 for two Yang and 5,3,2 for two Yin. No further harm to Walks-in-Shadows and he puts the cult leader on -1 for a Coup de Grace.
C: My second of the fight!
B: I did all the work, though.
GM: So to round up, Althea and the cult leader are out, Coup de Graces being given. Thorgan is on 2 Chi, Walks-in-Shadows on 1 and the demon on 2.

Round 5 - Describe

GM: With a stuttering cough the air between the demon and Althea is filled with spines. Not even her hastily-erected barrier of force can stop them all, and while most are stopped by her closest defenses one finds its way through to impale her gut. She falls to the ground, curling up in a ball around the projectile, clutching at it ineffectually, mouth working silently but not saying anything.
C: Beaten but not defeated, Walks-in-Shadows walks to where the cult leader fell. The man struggles to get to his feet, hands curling into mudras of power. The ranger's axe thuds into his forearm, fizzling the spell and he screams in pain. "Have mercy!" He wails pitifully. "As you would have done these innocents?" Walks-in-Shadows says as he closes. "I think not". He adds and the cult leader gasps and looks down to see the knife through his heart.
A: Might as well get mine in while I can, since I'm not in this round. Seeing their leader defeated, the fight goes out of the cultists. Those still under arms throw down their weapons and drop to their knees. They cross their arms across their chests in a submissive gesture and bow their heads, awaiting their fate. They make no move to assist the demon or get involved.
GM: The demon turns on Thorgan, slamming into him with its full weight and knocking him to the ground.
A: I keep a tight grip on my shield, protecting my face and vitals while trying to bring my hammer to bear.
C: Picking up a spear discarded by one of the cultists, Walks-in-Shadows draws to cast and sights along it. He hurls it with all his strength at the demon.
GM: The spear strikes the demon in its back, eliciting an ear-splitting roar of pain. Momentarily distracted from the prey underneath it, it half-turns towards the new threat and spits spines.
A: Taking advantage of the lull, I swing my hammer into its shoulder, crushing bone.
C: Diving to the ground to avoid the spines, the ranger lands next to the body of a cultist with one of his arrows through his breast. He rolls the man over himself absorbing the worst of the missiles.
GM: Howling in outrage, the demon swats at Thorgan, knocking him off his feet. Resolve!

Round 5 - Resolve

GM: Split evenly between the two of you as before. Otherworldly Predator 5, split 4/2 on each.
C: I'm going all-out this time 6/0, I'll take my licks. Skirmishing 4.
A: Someone has to survive this one to deliver the Coup de Grace. I'm going 4/2 with Soldier of the Temple 4.
GM: On Walks-in-Shadows 5,4,1,2 for four Yang and 2,3 for two Yin. On Thorgan 6,1,4,3 for three Yang and 3,6 for 1 Yin.
C: I got 3,1,3,2,4,2 for all six Yang successes! Go me! Course even while I've put it on -2, I'm on -3 so it narrates me out.
A: I got 2,4,4,3 for four Yang and 2,6 for 1 Yin. So I'm on 0 and it takes even more pain ending on -6!
GM: Only fair then that Thorgan gets the Coup de Grace here.

Round 6 - Closure

GM: Walks-in-Shadows feels a sharp pain in his left leg and as he tries to get up can't move it. His several spines have passed through his lower leg, pinning it to the ground. He feels dizzy and nearly vomits trying to pull one out and slumps back to the ground in his own world of pain.
A: As I get back to my feet, I prepare to receive the demon. At the last possible moment, I sidestep, bringing my hammer down with sickening force on its skull. Like a poleaxed bull it drops dead right there, dissolving into smoke and then blowing away.
GM: The villagers emerge from their hiding places and look nervously on their rescuers, all in a bad way.
A: "You're safe now, we will lead you back to your homes. But first I must tend to my companions." I say.

Example happens to be for a pretty high tension situation. :smallwink:

2013-03-10, 04:24 PM
You can have the PCs fail without putting them out of action.

The same applies to more action-oriented scenarios and genres too, though. In fact, in most action films protagonist death is really rather rare, whilst injuries and handicaps are quite common. It's a common enough practice, allowing the protagonist to win through against the odds, creating that "cinematic" feel.

Now, for scenes where physical harm isn't at stake, such as in a psychological or politcal scene, the stakes and consequences are usually fairly obvious; fail to persuade the Minister of Health to shut down the City Hospital before the Plague of Doom infects it and the consequences are written in to the plot (i.e. the hospital doesn't shut and the plague probably infects it).

My problem was that in an "action" scene, the stakes are often life and death. So trying to avoid that, whilst still maintaining a sense of failure was proving problematic. E.g. the Plucky 1930's Pulp Hero is having a sword-fight on a rickety rope bridge with the Evil Cultist. Being untrained with a blade, Pulp Hero loses the fight and fails the Scene; what happens? Does the cultist cut the ropes and dive to safety, leaving Pulp Hero to fall to his death? No, because that's clearly innapropriate at this stage of the story. If the roles were reversed, that's fine; it's what we expect from the genre, but for Pulp Hero to die here is "not cool".

Maybe the answer is just staring me in the face, inasmuch as you just tell the story so the Protagonist doesn't die: Evil Cultist cuts the ropes. Pulp Hero falls, but his leg gets tangled in the bridge as it collapses and he falls unconscious, dangling from the remains of the bridge. Evil Cultist laughs eeevily and walks off assuming Pulp Hero is dead. Pulp Hero comes to some time later, to find himself upside down and groggy. Left for dead and wounded, Pulp Hero has to climb to safety and pick up the trail of Evil Cultist before the Damsel in Distress is sacrificed to Evil Cultists Dark Gods. Dun dun Duuuunn!

The point of this system is, after all, to be more of a collaborative storytelling aide than a proper Roleplaying game, in the traditional sense.

I do apologise, just kind of thinking out loud there...

edit: that does sound kind of awesome celtois! I'll have a closer look at Wushu.

2013-03-10, 04:40 PM
Glad you liked the look of it.

Oh. And best of all. Wushu can be downloaded for free.
Here: http://www.story-games.at/wushu/open_reloaded.pdf

2013-03-10, 05:13 PM
While you make a good point Eldan, I'd like to point out that JellyPooga's problem was maintaining tension while making PC death unlikely. In psychological thrillers, action-light spy movies or melodramas, life and limb of the protagonist aren't at stake anyway, so it's not a problem. You can have the PCs fail without putting them out of action.

I know, and I specifically said that I didn't think Jelly Pooga actually said that. It was, as I mentioned, a more or less disconnected side commentary.

"Why is it that people, when they hear "cinematic" often seem to think "fast-paced and action-heavy".

It's a different one from what the OP is asking and should probably go in Media, not here.

2013-03-10, 06:06 PM
Finally, just a general call for any thoughts on cinematic roleplaying in general.
I've run a really cinematic RPG.... All other "Cinematic RPG's" fail for one simple reason films have a script. The protagonist succeeds not on the roll of a dice but on how Dramatically Appropriate the result is.

I tried running a game called Hollywood 2020 (Future filmmakering with android extras) where the game was about making a B Movie where 'combat' (and everything else) was determined on the basis of Dramatic Necessity, There was a limited budget for sets FX music etc and characters had skills like:-

Gag writer (allows the player to say during filming 'I make a witty quip' then make up the quip at leisure)

Iron will (will gain louse 20 pounds go through any indignity for the money or the part)

Trademark skill (a real skill thats hard to fake, Drive is easy fake... the stunt man is more or less invisible in the car but a Riding trademark skill allows closeups on horse back instead of having to sit on a fake horse in front of a blue-screen)

Acting Style (Shakespeare, Screwball comedy, Villains, etc etc)

The game was fun and very strange and but was not what I'd call sustainable (though the potential was there it was not an 'easy session' everyone had to work at it.).

2013-03-10, 09:19 PM
Off of the top of my head, games that use "stake bidding" mechanics are:

Burning Wheel and any variant
Prime Time Adventures
Monster Hearts
Fate, to a certain extent
Dogs in the Vineyard
Fiasco (I think, I'm not sure any more since it's been a while since I played it)

In the indie scene, using stake setting is pretty much the standard for a lot of games that want to push narrative focus.

But certain games do try to prescribe a more rigid "scene" structure, which gives the system a bit more of a focused feel. Spirits of the Century (a fate variant) has extensive instructions/recommendation on how to do this, but it doesn't mandate it. Burning Empires actually forces certain scene structures. (i.e. no more than 2 conflict scenes per session)

I'm of two minds on that myself. On one hand, prescribing a scene structure means you can more effectively deliver a particular kind of game, but it also strips away some of the freedom, which a lot of people like.

2013-03-10, 10:12 PM
7th Sea comes to mind. I don't remember the exact rule, but you could only be killed in boss fights. Random encounters could only knock you out. It didn't really lessen the feel of random encounters, but did seriously up the ante in big fights.

Firest Kathon
2013-03-11, 06:34 AM
I can't remember the name, but there's an RPG centered around Hong Kong style movies (like Police Story or Jet Li movies).
It has a "Nope, that round did not happen, I'm the STAR here!" mechanic

There's a game called "New Hong Kong Story", but that's currently in the making and only played on cons by its creator. It uses the neat mechanic that the player's character is an actor who then takes on a role in a movie. So even if the role dies in the movie, the character can take part in the next movie (it's not real, after all).

AFAIK, the game is a remake of an older game called "Hong Kong Story", so maybe that's the one you're thinking about.

2013-03-12, 08:16 AM
Glad you liked the look of it.

Oh. And best of all. Wushu can be downloaded for free.
Here: http://www.story-games.at/wushu/open_reloaded.pdf

I should probably add that I didn't pre-determine the outcome of that scene when I wrote it, I just rolled the dice. The PCs as a collective nearly lost that scene, two of them were written out by the opposition. If the dice had been less charitable, they might have been captured by the cult, or cast into some extradimensional prison or whatnot.