Learn To ScreenPlay: Hitting Those Milestones

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

If you’re reading this post immediately after it’s been published, there’s only one more week until you can stop reading about what ScreenPlay will be about and try it for yourself. But it’s even better if you’re reading this post AFTER publication because that means the wait will be even less or not at all. Patience is for suckers.

Stories are about more than pacing, action, drama, and more. Without characters, stories are nothing more than descriptions without meaning, actions without purpose, and tension without resolution. Characters are what make stories captivating and connect with the audience. Part of what latches us onto a character is their growth and development as people, whether they learn to overpower their enemies physically or their deepest fears. If a character remains the same at the end of a story as they were in the beginning, the audience loses interest in them and that is why such development remains an important part of ScreenPlay‘s characters too. But how?

So glad you asked. And even if you didn’t, this next instalment of Learn To ScreenPlay’s gonna talk about it anyway through milestones.

Developing A Character, Rewarding A Writer

The key to a successful story in ScreenPlay is moving the story forward by working together with your fellow Writers and the Director, using the material provided to create a logical and exciting tale of heroes, villains, and the people caught between their struggles. As Writers must tell the story through the eyes of their characters, it only makes sense for an experience system common in RPGs to reward players through the development of their characters as it relates to the story and for doing so co-operatively with their fellow players. Milestones are points awarded to Writers for not only playing the game and keeping the story moving, but for doing so in a unique and engaging fashion based on what they’ve created with their characters, be they leads or supporting.

Milestones are handed out by the Director at the end of a scene as they relate to its goals and character motivations, as well as excellent gameplay, use of descriptions, and anything else the Director feels made the scene a memorable experience. The guidelines for awarding milestones are fairly loose as this is a game built on improvisation, but many treatments that will be available in the Rehearsal Edition will showcase some examples for handing out milestones. For example, in the Tracking The Scarab Witch scene in Ironbound (a dark fantasy story of holy warriors tasked with slaying all warlocks and witches), Writers are awarded 1 milestone whenever they can describe their lead character(s) utilizing clues from the previous scene where local village children are killed or captured using the skills and traits established through each character’s potentials and their primary role.

While milestones are awarded in response to character descriptions, these little babies are handed to the Writer playing them. Regardless of which character earned them those milestones, Writers can redeem them for any character in their pool, even those later brought into their fold. The key is milestones are points handed out to the Writers to make their characters stronger and more prominent in the story.

Beefing Up The Heroes

Milestones can be spent over the course of the story to create one of two types of effects: immediate bonuses or long-term increases. To be specific, there are four ways milestones can be spent to improve the chances of survival for any character under a Writer’s control as they exist in Version 1.1 of the Rehearsal Edition.

Increased Maximum Stamina: A Writer can redeem 2 milestones to increase a character’s maximum Stamina by 1.

Conflict Re-Roll: A Writer can redeem 1 milestone to re-roll one of their conflict rolls immediately after it is rolled and before complications (if any) are applied. Whatever the new result, it must be honours and multiple milestones can be redeemed for the same conflict roll.

Step Bonus: A Writer can redeem 1 milestone to gain a one-time +1 step bonus for one of her characters. This must be redeemed on the same turn the step bonus is applied and can only be done once per scene.

Additional Resources: A Writer can redeem 3 milestones to permanently gain an additional resource slot for one of her characters.

Playtesting to date has revealed a lot of Writers plan to use their milestones to increase a lead character’s maximum Stamina, but the temptation to make that suddenly important conflict re-roll complicates this character growth. Which is exactly what they were intended for, but this point assignment is one of the key ingredients for moving forward with a public playtest. How quickly can characters grow in your average ScreenPlay? What is the average number of milestones awarded per scene? Per session? Per story? These are the answer we’re hoping players like YOU can help answer.

While there may be another class in this series of lectures we call Learn To ScreenPlay, this is the final lesson for now. There is only one other way you can learn about this game and that is to download the completely free, totally-up-your-own-discretion download of ScreenPlay: The Rehearsal Edition. In the meantime, we invite you to join in the ScreenPlayers Guild, a Google+ community dedicated to nothing but creating a discussion on what works, what doesn’t, and how to make it better. Hope to see you there.

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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.