Tension and stress are two key elements to dramatic storytelling, regardless of whether you accomplish this through high stakes negotiations, car chases, shootouts, even a first date. Bringing those elements into a game of ScreenPlay is what this week’s lesson is all about because as awesome as it is to do whatever you want simply by describing it does not necessarily equal a fun game. Tension and stress create challenges for all players to overcome despite your personal desires and when you overcome those challenges, the game becomes all the better.
In this week’s instalment of Learn To ScreenPlay, we’re going to cover two of the biggest threats to Writers and their characters: damage and challenges.
Dishing Out The Damage
If there’s a staple in nearly every action-based RPG out there, it’s damage. We covered complications and how they work their magic in last week’s premiere instalment of Learning To ScreenPlay, but there are times when you simply want to have your character beat the crap out of another character. Do you need to all the time? No. Are there moments when it’s more advantageous to hinder an opponent by knocking them to the ground, locking them inside a burning car, or drug them so they stumble around the nightclub in a daze? Most definitely. But there are also times when smacking your villain senseless and eliminating them from the scene entirely is the way to go and that’s where damage comes in.
Before we can explain damage, let’s introduce you to resources. Your characters can carry any number of items, articles of clothing, and however many tiny pocket-filling objects seems reasonable without any burdening rules for encumbrance, pre-assigned equipment lists, and the standard mechanics of items in many games. Resources are specifically assigned items players select as key items and skills they wish to apply in the upcoming scene. They can provide either a step bonus (increasing your conflict roll dice by one size, such as a d8 to a d10) or a damage bonus and these are noted on the character sheet at the start of the scene to suit whatever your character wants to accomplish and how they want to do it.
Damage reduces a character’s Stamina and when it reaches 0, the character is removed from the scene. How they’re removed depends on who dropped them to 0 and the odds of your friends doing this are slim, so you can imagine the typical end result. Any character can choose to inflict damage instead of placing a complication whenever prompted by a conflict roll. Just like complications, damage comes in two forms: major and minor damage. Whenever you can place a major complication on a character, you can instead inflict major damage and the same goes with minor damage substituting minor complications. Minor damage is only the damage bonus assigned to a particular resource involved in a description. Major damage is a juicier version where you combine the damage bonus of your resource with the difference between your conflict roll result and the Difficulty. So if you roll an absolute 12 on a d12 against your average extra’s Difficulty of 3 and it’s with a two-handed baseball bat granting a +2 damage bonus, that’s 11 damage. And when you consider the average lead character starts off a story with 15 Stamina… ouch.
Looking For A Challenge?
There is an inherent risk in a game like ScreenPlay where the players are calling the shots and helping to create the danger they’ll face: how do you know they won’t simply play the easiest possible version of the game? There are two solutions to this risk. One, ask yourself if you’re playing with friends like this and why. Two, use challenges.
Challenges are points accumulated by the Director during the course of the story. Without getting into specifics, they basically land in the Director’s palm whenever the Writers have it easy or accomplish something really impressive. Ok, one example. Whenever anyone rolls the highest possible value on their conflict roll, it’s known as an absolute and means that result cannot be altered in any way by another player. When a Writer rolls an absolute, the Director gains 1 challenge. From that point on until the end of the story, the Director can redeem these challenges to ramp up the tension and make things harder for the Writers and their characters.
Let’s say the lead characters are detectives solving a triple homicide that soon becomes revealed as the work of a satanic cult who is actually lead by an angel. After kicking down the door to a presumed abandoned warehouse, the detectives find themselves setup and need to escape in a serious hurry. In no time flat, the Writers describe their detectives stay miles ahead of their attackers and easily make it to the fire escape to freedom… until the Director decides that’s not nail-biting enough and redeems 1 challenge to alter the setting a little bit – the doors have been chained shut from the outside. Now, with the cultists literally steps away from their prey, the detectives have to resort to Plan B.
A Game Of Survival Against The Odds
That’s the kind of tension we’re talking about, no matter the genre, mood, or style you’re going for in your story. When one really good (or really bad) dice roll can lead to half of your Stamina suddenly spilled all over the floor or discovering the Director has other plans for your big action sequence, things can take a sudden and amazingly entertaining turn.
So what else can you do with Stamina to make them so damned important? Join us next week when we shed a little light on what keeps your characters ticking.