Where No ScreenPlay Has Gone Before

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An actual photo of an actual game of ScreenPlay in progress. Every game designer’s dream come true. 

They say, “Be careful what you wish for.” Then again, sometimes you get exactly what you were hoping for in the craziest way possible.

This past Thursday, I had the pleasure of running a ScreenPlay demo in a downtown Ottawa pub for six players, including ENnie Award winner, Jason Pitre (Spark, Posthuman Pathways). This was part of Cardboard Kingdom’s #beersnboardgames night and a big thanks to Kat for helping to set this up.  Rather than walk into this demo with a preconceived treatment or genre in mind, I wanted to see how the game would hold up against any possibility and have the Writers devise the genre, setting, plot, everything. Let the chips (and dice) fall where they may. What I did not count on was an experienced bunch of story gamers who love to let the mayhem fly when the GM doesn’t clip their wings and while it initially sent a wave of panic through my chest, it ended up being the greatest game of ScreenPlay to date.

Here’s what they came up with: a deep space romantic reality show (akin to The Bachelorette) where aliens of all genders attempt to win the affection of Captain Kirk’s preserved head in a glass jar (a la Futurama style). Yep, you read that right. Now the main thing to take from this is “romantic” and this is actually the most definitive element to the story. There was never going to be physical violence (maybe some face slapping) and all conflict rolls were going to be rolled against other lead characters to complicate their aspirations of winning Kirk’s affections and wearing down his Stamina until he could no longer resist one of the competitors. Oh, and those competitors included Kirk’s gorn ex-wife, a pure energy being, a cyborg who thought it was still human, a vulcan going through the full effects of pon farr, a half-Ferengi bartender with a drinking problem, and the Klingon director of this show (titled “Where No Man Has Gone Before”) calling the shots from behind the camera.

Feel free to take a moment and read over that last paragraph again. I’ll wait.

How did it work out? Incredibly well. Aside from the numerous laughs and rounds of applause (especially after the half-Ferengi decided to create a wormhole into a parallel dimension and bring back young Kirk – AKA Chris Pine – as a means of cheating and causing a tie in the competition), the game managed to keep this madness together and flowing. While I’ll admit there were moments when the rules were tossed out the window for the sake of brevity, I’m rather proud that what may be the best attempts to break it only helped make it stronger.

Now if this is your first impression of ScreenPlay, rest assured this is not par for the course. Yet the fact that it is possible and could become the norm for your own group should they wish it to be gives this game a much needed confidence boost. And me too.

(This post was written by The Warden, creator and lead designer of ScreenPlay… actually he is the sole embodiment of Broken Ruler Games working with a team of talented freelancers to create games that break the rules.)
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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.

Learn To ScreenPlay: Keeping Up Your Stamina

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

Before we begin the third instalment of Learn To ScreenPlay, I’d like to draw your attention towards the official Learn To ScreenPlay page of this site and bring out the Learn To ScreenPlay dancers. Ok, that last one’s still waiting on auditions (and a reality check), but the rest is totally true. If this is the first one of these posts you’ve ever seen or perhaps you may have missed one in the past, we’re collecting all these teasers to our upcoming Rehearsal Edition onto one handy, dandy place.

Now on with the show.

Not every character gets to live until the end of the story. Every tale has its share of casualties, sacrificial lambs, and nameless goons who must be defeated in some gruesome fashion for the protagonists to reach the conclusion. Or sometimes it’s a protagonist who’s gotta go to add suspense to the plot. In a game like ScreenPlay, how do you determine who concludes their journey down the rabbit hole you and your fellow Writers have created? With Stamina, of course.

It’s All About Your Stamina

Stamina is very much akin to (and yet nothing like) the standard hit points you see in many roleplaying games. Each character has a maximum number of points in the beginning that are dwindled down and refreshed as the story progresses until they either reach zero and are no longer involved in the story or the story reaches the end and everyone’s happy. (Note: This can assume the character dies, but is not always the case. How a character is removed from the story remains in control of the player who dropped them down to 0 Stamina.) Whenever someone takes damage from a conflict roll, it’s Stamina that’s depleted. Survive until the end of a scene and you can recover half of your current Stamina (yet no more than your maximum amount), keeping you ready to continue on for yet another scene and bring you one step closer to the end. Pretty standard fare, but now this is where things get interesting.

Stamina also allows your character room to cheat. Certain options are available to lead and supporting characters (but not extras; they’re not supposed to stick around long enough to make it worth the effort) wherein they can cut in line and offer a description before they are chosen, increase your conflict roll by one, smack someone back even when they’ve already provided a description and more. You can get through a scene (or an entire story) without using these cheats, but if you want to use them, it’ll cost you. For each of the cheats provided below, you must spend 1 Stamina from that character’s reserve. Cheat too often and it’ll backfire on you if they dish our major damage on an even-numbered roll… and that’s the point. It’s a tempting offer and just like any deal with the Devil, you have to be prepared to pay the price for your greed.

Shift: You can spend 1 Stamina to increase or decrease the result of a die roll (either one you rolled or one rolled against you) by 1. For example, if an opponent rolls a 6 on their conflict roll, you can spend 1 Stamina to reduce it to a 5 and at least only suffer a minor complication.

Interrupt: A character who has yet to act in the current round can spend 1 Stamina to cut in line. The player can choose whether they want to interrupt before another player is chosen or before or after a character’s description is provided.

Retaliate: Immediately following a conflict roll, regardless of its outcome, a player can spend 1 Stamina for the targeted character to make a conflict roll of their own against the same opponent.

Remove a Minor Complication: You can spend 1 Stamina to remove a minor complication with one detail instead of a full description.

And to answer the immediate question, lead characters start with a story with 15 Stamina, supporting characters start with at least 7 Stamina (if they’re designed for a Writer; Directors have flexibility to take it as high as 50 Stamina for those truly bad-ass villains), while extras never have more than 3 Stamina (and can never use the cheats mentioned above).

Taking It To Another Level

But is that as much Stamina as you’ll ever have to work with? Not by a long shot, it simply depends on how faithful you are to the development of the story, your characters, and the spirit of gameplay. It is entirely possible for characters to increase their maximum Stamina through the collection of what’s called milestones… and that’s where we introduce a cliffhanger. Next time, we’ll discuss these points and how they help keep everyone on the same page.

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.