Learn To ScreenPlay: Damage and Challenges

ScreenPlay: The Rehearsal Edition launches October 20, 2015.
ScreenPlay: The Rehearsal Edition launches October 20, 2015.

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.

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Learn To ScreenPlay: Complicating Matters

ScreenPlay: The Rehearsal Edition launches October 20, 2015.
ScreenPlay: The Rehearsal Edition launches October 20, 2015.

It’s been a week since ScreenPlay: The Rehearsal Edition was announced on this very site and the response has been very positive. Thanks to everyone who shared their eagerness and impatience. As we countdown to October 20th, how about a weekly tutorial on what you can expect when you begin to ScreenPlay?

(A quick note before we begin: any official terminology mentioned or introduced in this series will be highlighted in bold red text. That way you know it’s super-duper important. But not “bold red,” that has no bearing on the game whatsoever. Ok, so from hereon in. Promise.)

Before anyone thinks we’re talking about advanced rules for our upcoming storytelling RPG, let’s quash that concern. ScreenPlay is an easy-to-learn game; always has been, always will be. This is about the role of complications, those mechanical little caltrops making things harder for all types of characters in every story you can create.

Lesson #1: Complications

During the gradual building process of this game, complications went from an accessory to every dice roll to the sole purpose for the roll itself. If there’s any major difference between this game and many other tabletop RPGs on the market, it’s this: you do not roll dice to determine success or failure, you do so to determine if any complications take place. And if that peaks your interest, let’s see if we can make those eyebrows rise a little higher.

Whenever a Writer or Director describes a character attempting to complicate another character’s actions, a conflict roll is triggered. Not when someone is described spinning their 1967 Mustang into a 360 degree spin, kicking down a locked door, or jumping off the roof and grabbing hold of the fire escape halfway down. In ScreenPlay, your characters are supposed to be awesome. If the main character of a big budget movie tried any of these, would you expect them to lose control and wipe out in a ditch, break their foot, or hit the ground twenty stories below? Nope, and that’s why it won’t happen here. But if the local sheriff attempts the PITT maneuver, someone stands at the other side of the door to keep you from busting in, or gunmen on the rooftop try and blast your fingers off… well then, we’ve got a conflict roll to determine complications.

A complication is a forced condition, limitation, or effect placed on a character as the result of a conflict roll and can only be removed by using a number of descriptions within the scene.

When you roll dice, there is still the matter of success or failure, but only as it retains to complicating a description. Hitting or exceeding the Difficulty number (based on the chosen character you’re trying to complicate) allows you to screw them up. If the roll fails, you are unable to complicate the other character’s efforts and you even run the risk of having a complication placed on you as punishment. But it doesn’t end there because there are two types of complications: major and minor ones. Which applies? Simply consult that same dice roll and break it down according to even and odd numbers and one of four possibilities will occur.

Success With An Even Number: The describing character may choose to place a major complication on the target character.

Success With An Odd Number: The describing character may choose to place a minor complication on the target character.

Failure With An Even Number: No additional hindrances occur to the describing character.

Failure With An Odd Number: The describing character takes a minor complication.

Rolling odds vs. evens can be viewed like this: rolling even numbers are better, rolling odds not so much. Failing your conflict roll with an odd number is your worst possible result as it forces a minor complication on you while rolling even and succeeding provides the best possible result this game can offer.

Complications are loosely defined and fully intended to allow players freedom to devise whatever they can dream up to suit the situation. Obviously, the complete rules for ScreenPlay will have more to say on this than you’ll find here (this is a teaser, after all), but here’s what we can tell you about the two types of complications.

Major complications are those affecting a wide range of future descriptions for the remainder of the scene and inflict a -1 step penalty (reducing the dice type by one level, such as a d8 to a d6) unless the affected character uses two descriptions (the term for actions in ScreenPlay) for the sole purpose of addressing and “treating” the complication. For example, let’s assume someone receives the Busted Kneecap major complication. Until they remove it using two descriptions, any attempt that uses that kneecap will result in a -1 step penalty.

Minor complications temporarily prevent a character from using a resource, item, set piece, or anything else that can be accessed or applied to a description. Say someone receives the The Door Is Blocked minor complication; they cannot leave through that particular door until the minor complication is removed by a single description. Less of a hassle and not always a serious detriment, but it also depends on the scene’s goal. If you need to get through that door with a legion of trigger happy terrorists trying to put a hole in your skull, it becomes a big deal. Or it can be as simple as running out of ammo, requiring you to take time to reload. It all depends on the player who sticks it on you.

Next Week: Challenges

Is this the only way complications are dished out? Oh no, there’s an extra tool for Directors to ensure their Writers stay on their toes and we’ll get into that next week. (What? You didn’t think we’d trust all you Writers out there to describe your characters having a hard time, did you?)