In a continuance of my previous post regarding cinematic application of rules, I wanted to chat a little about our wound tracker.
John and I wrestled repeatedly with different methods of tracking damage, from conditions or temporary aspects like Fate, to levels of damage on a tracker like in Shadowrun, and we had a lot of trouble finding something that really worked and felt right for the story and style. We brainstormed a ton and eventually came to the point where we wanted damage to be somewhat abstract but root it in concrete.
Our new and final wound tracker uses your size (which is determined by Traits) to track columns of available wound points, and Toughness to track rows of available wound points. You mark off damage in the pips across each row, starting at the top left corner. At the end of each row, there is a small triangle. Once all of the available damage pips are marked off in a row, you mark a triangle off. This is called a "wound".
Wounds are applicable both to PCs and NPCs. When you have a wound marked, at some point during the scene, the Director can call your wound to remove a success from one of your rolls. This mimics the scenes in action films when a character gets shot and shrugs it off for a while, but when it's plot appropriate, they flinch and cringe, missing a shot or falling down while running away. Players narrate how the wound affects them.
After the wound has been called once, it is erased and can't be called again unless that row is refilled with new damage. Players can also call NPC wounds. Any player at any time can call the wound of an NPC to reduce their successes by one. Just like with the player wounds, the NPC wounds are erased after they are called.
We wanted to approach this like a real action film, and I think that this new method works well to create that blockbuster feel.
— Brie Sheldon
Another note about the permanency of damage:
In different role-playing games, damage has differing levels of permanency. In Dungeons & Dragons games prior to 4th edition, damage could take quite some time to recover without magical assistance (though that assistance is fairly ubiquitous and it makes healing almost instantaneous). In Shadowrun, advanced medicine and healing magic can help a character recover from deadly wounds a matter of hours (if the character is lucky, otherwise they can be in for months of convalescence). These games do a fairly faithful job of simulating the effects of real wounds, damage, and recovery within the fiction of their worlds.
We don't want faithful simulation of wounds and recovery for Tabletop Blockbuster. Action heros tend to be iconic characters, not prone to being changed by their circumstances - circumstances including serious injury. So, damage recovery is necessarily abstracted and rapid.
At the end of each scene, characters erase all damage from their last-damaged row. Healing skills and powers can be used as part of a recovery montage between full-blown scenes to further accelerate recovery of damage. This keeps every character in the action in as many scenes as possible, and discourages highly cautious play. Characters should take big, blockbuster risks, knowing that even if they take a beating they'll be back into the action soon.
— John W. SheldonThe Design Process
I have been thinking a lot about the steps that went into our design process for Tabletop Blockbuster. I remember the first conversation with John that I had about the mechanics, and I said, I want someone like me to be able to play the game. There are a lot of things I love about tabletop RPGs, but sometimes the mechanics are unapproachable.
The problem is, there are some things I enjoy about more complex mechanics. One of my favorite games is Shadowrun, which is crunchy as all get-out. It's fun, though, and the mechanics work with the setting and it all meshes. What it came down to was making mechanics that meshed with the feel of the game.
Our base mechanics of rolling ability + skill is in part because I think that rolling loads of dice is super fun, I won't lie. But, it's also to allow for customizing your skills and abilities - you can make a character that's really truly focused, or build a more generalized character, and still at least have a chance at success. There is never a time when a person just doesn't have the ability to try - and that's mega important to me.
This is also important because I think it fits with the theme - action heroes can always give something a shot and have a chance of success, including defusing bombs when they probably have never even seen a breaker box. Going for tropes - the stiletto wearing damsel can probably still luck out with a great right hook. Having the ability + skill option, and having those things be flexible - allowing someone to roll with strength + firearms when they're trying to resist recoil, or agility + firearms if they're pulling some Matrix-style moves - allows the flexibility and narrative control that I think you need to tell a really good action story.
More thoughts to come on our wound tracking system.
— Brie SheldonCharacter Advancement in Tabletop Blockbuster
Monsterhearts and other Powered by the Apocalypse games do some things with character advancement that I really like. Instead of writing down an ever-larger number of experience points and advancing when it passes certain predefined thresholds, or accumulating and spending advancement points on the myriad skills and abilities available to a character, you monitor experience on a visual track by filling in circles. There is a list of specific advances including increasing attributes and taking new moves, and when the track is filled you select one of those. This is very simple and very effective. Unfortunately, it doesn't translate directly to advancement for a slightly more traditional style RPG like Tabletop Blockbuster. Unlike those games, not all potential advancements carry equal weight or could be easily equalized.
So, to create a system that is as easy to use while differentiating between the many sorts of advances available, I've taken some of the ideas and modified them, while introducing some brilliant thoughts from +Brianna Sheldon.
Our new, much easier advancement system for Tabletop Blockbuster uses a visual track, on which players fill in circles as their character earns experience. Some of these circles are blank (particularly the first few). Others are labeled with different advances which the player cashes in by erasing all experience from the track after he's filled in the advance he wants. A third set of circles are labeled with benefits that remain only as long as the track is filled to that point (these were Brie's idea, and they solve a minor problem both of us had been having at the table).
Making this change almost completely eliminates multiplication from the game (a tiny amount is still used during character generation), and does eliminate the use of fractions completely. This is a good thing, since it simplifies things to a level just about anyone can do very rapidly in their head.
— John W. Sheldon