Campaign of the Month: June 2012
This House Rule is created to enhance game play, make it more fun, as well as to add in speeding up combat. When a player describes the actions of their character in a cinematic fashion, be it in the context of combat, or outside of combat (primarily when using skills), they will be awarded Cinematic Dice for their creative efforts.
Cinematic Dice are rewarded for describing characters’ actions in an evocative manner. The out-of-game rationale for a Cinematic bonus is that well-described actions keep the game interesting for everyone and help the DM set the scene. In game, they represent the capacity of epic heroes to be truly spectacular when they take risks and act like heroes. These Cinematic dice act similarly to Action Dice, but should be thought of separately. They are instant rewards, and intended to be used immediately or lost.
Cinematic Dice are rewarded ONLY for heroic actions, and not for despicable ones. Also, such rewards will never be awarded for actions taken against other Player Characters without special circumstances and permission.
Earning Cinematic Dice
- At the lowest level, one-die actions require a good description of an action, adjudicated by the DM. In return, the player gains one Cinematic Die, to apply to their described action.
Example: Anoria snaps her razor-fan open with a soft click across the guard’s throat. She then watches over its bloody edge as he collapses in a gurgling heap at her feet.
- Two-die actions require that the character interact with the environment in some notable fashion, taking advantage of the scenery that the DM has provided. This can be physical environment or things the character knows about the world, like an enemy’s phobias or a lover’s favorite flower.
Example: Anoria watches the two guards charging her from each side, intending to pin her between them. At the last moment, she crouches and flips back against the wall. In the instant she stands horizontal, her fans flash out, catching both men in the face. She then falls through the double arterial spray, landing catlike as her two attackers crash blindly into one another.
- Three-die actions are singular acts of greatness, stunning bravado and visual poetry, defined by their capacity to leave the other players slack-jawed in astonishment. If any doubt exists as to whether a Cinematic description merits three dice, it isn’t a three-die action.
Example: The demon swings his burning fist at Anoria, and she leaps straight up in a somersault, balancing in a tentative handstand on his massive hand. Her feet connect with the chandelier above, tilting it to pour oil on top of the spirit’s head. As she hoped, the glittering drops burst alight as they land on the creature’s superheated flesh. The flames do not hurt him, but distract him long enough for her to release a hand and grab a fan from her belt. Still balanced on the monster’s swinging arm, Anoria shoves her folded razor into the demon’s mouth, twisting it up through his brain.
Players should note that the preceding examples set the scene as well as providing the action. In the first, the description of the attack is something more than “I hit him.” In the second, the action describes Anoria’s use of the wall as a springboard and arranging for her opponents to crash together. In the final, it is her audacity to perform acrobatic feats while perched on her enemy as she sets him up to expose his one point of vulnerability. During play, the DM should have already set the scene by the time a character acts, so a Cinematic description does not need to be a five-minute narrative. Without exception, short and flowing is always better than long and clunky. Merely stringing adjectives and adverbs together isn’t good enough. The description must be interesting, without interrupting the flow of play.
Occasionally, important DM characters may benefit from Cinematic Dice, but they should only do so sparingly since the DM is the final authority on all Cinematic Descriptions. Unimportant characters should never gain the advantage of Cinematic Dice, no matter how well the DM narrates their actions. In gritty games, DMs may limit the effects of such actions for all characters.
Using the skill rules, players can reduce their characters’ actions to “I search for traps” or “I intimidate him” without any greater detail. This is the equivalent of a player saying “I hit him with my sword” during physical combat; it works and allows a roll, but it is inherently bland. Unless the action is of trivial consequence, players should endeavor to do a better job articulating skill use. In many cases, extra Cinematic dice are not called for, but simply describing the attempt will enrich the experience. Remember that Cinematic dice are just that, Cinematic. If there is no application of the heroic or dramatic, bonus dice may not be awarded.
Physical combat rules exist to abstractly represent the fact that two players will not beat on each other to decide which of their characters wins a fight. In contrast, players can (and should) debate, argue and haggle with one another or the DM (in character, of course). After all, this is a roleplaying game, and playing a role is the point of the exercise. As a result, DMs should award one Cinematic Die simply for talking in character (rather than describing the gist of what the character says) in any social situations. Better dialogue should qualify for more dice. By liberally awarding dice for good characterization, the DM rewards those who put in extra effort and establishes the fact that the protagonists really do have an edge over most of the supporting cast who cannot access Cinematic Dice. The Charisma based skills apply here.
Some skills lend themselves to Cinematic effect more than others. Physical skills are arguably the easiest to describe in such a fashion, and will be rewarded accordingly. While it is easier to state one is climbing up a tree to get a better vantage, it is more interesting to take the opportunity to describe the tangled roots of a tree, and how the character leaps from branch to branch, swinging herself up until she is swaying on the upper branches, high enough to glimpse the bay, and see if the ship Hail Blue Skies is still anchored there. As the description involved the terrain, it is likely this would be a two-dice reward. The skills in this category are all STR and DEX based skills. Also, Survival may well be considered a physical skill in certain applications, as can the Heal Skill.
It is only possible to describe the process taken when researching things like Knowledge Skills or Linguistics. The better described, the more Cinematic dice a character will earn. Such skills also include certain uses of Spellcraft, and Appraise. One can usually never apply a Cinematic effect to one of these skills in combat, or without taking some accompanying action, such as spending time in a Library or consulting a Sage.
Certain skills are difficult to describe Cinematically, such as Perception, Profession, or Craft. It can be done, but with extreme creativity and and a spoonful of suspension of disbelief.
What do I do with my bonus Cinematic Dice? It depends on what you did to earn them.
Each awarded Cinematic Die may be used immediately (and only immediately) on the action described. Cinematic dice are always Exploding Dice, meaning if you roll a ‘6’ on ANY of the dice, you may immediately reroll the dice and add the results to the original roll. These dice may explode infinitely. Spending Cinematic Dice is a free action.
Generally, when describing a Skill action, they may only be used to perform the action described, traditionally to add to your Skill check. When awarded, roll 1d6 (Exploding) per dice awarded, and add the total to the result of the skill check. These rewards may also be used in certain circumstances to grant an automatic success on the Skill check in question. Like all Cinematic Dice rewards, they are at the discretion of the DM.
Note: In certain social situations, the dice roll may be overridden by the role-playing (which is always preferred). The resulting Skill check might be called for only as a measure of success, and not to determine success or failure.
When awarded Cinematic dice as part of combat descriptions, you may use the dice in any of these ways. If awarded multiple dice, they may be used together or separately for any roll associated with the description.
- Skill Checks: If a skill was involved in the description, one or more dice results may be applied to that check.
- To Hit: You may add the roll to best the opponent’s AC.
- To Damage: You may apply the roll to your Hit Point Damage, and deal one point of Injury Damage if the resulting attack is a Critical Hit.
- Armor Class: If the description was the result of a defensive maneuver, or other action that affects AC, then the points rolled may apply to your AC for the duration of the description, limited by the pips rolled on the dice in rounds, for an ongoing descriptor.
- Saving Throws: If you know of an imminent attack and choose to describe your efforts to resist the effects of the impending attack. You may be awarded Cinematic dice for describing efforts to resist disease and poisons, if applicable.
Cinematic Dice are influenced by Stunts from the Exalted RPG.