Action Dramatic

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Intro

Action Dramatic is a homebrew system which hopes to emulate the cinematic style of action movies from swords-and-sorcery (Conan) to kung-fu flicks (Kill Bill, House of Flying Daggers) to spy films (007), to the future (Blade Runner, Equilibrium, Matrix). Action Dramatic, or AD, is based off the following principles:

One Dice Roll

Wherever possible, simplify actions down to a statistical similar roll. By reducing the number of die rolls, the action speeds up and a battle which took 12 seconds in-game doesn't take 2 hours to play in real life. Speeding up gameplay is almost always a good thing: it gets the players more involved in the game, it keeps the right tone (battle for life and limb not a plodding and extremely complicated war game), and it allows more to get done in the game in the same amount of real life time.

Emergence

Define the properties of in-game objects and how they interact. "Hardcoding" leads to more "hardcoding" which leads to a game which is both more complicated and slower. As an example, all action films have both mooks (those nameless thugs that get beaten up by the dozens or hundreds) and villians (named characters who are usually as good, if not better, than the protagonist). We could either define two classes of enemies, the mook and the villian, giving those classes different rules, or we could just define a person class which can vary between being very strong (villian) and very weak (mook). Doing the first choice is probably easier than the second, but what happens when we want to add lieutenants (henchmen of the villian who are stronger then normal mooks)? We would have to add in a henchmen class with the first choice but with the second we already have the lieutenant possibility so there's no need for creating new rules and content.

Story-Focused

The purpose of Action Dramatic is to create a story and have fun doing it. Together, the GM and players create a story in the style of a movie action flick. This isn't a tactical combat simulator, a turn-based strategy game, or a realistic war game. We don't care about balance except where it impacts the story and how much fun the players are having. We care about realism as far as the players willing suspension of disbelief can be stretched. If anything interferes with making a fun story, than it should be edited if it can be saved or cut if it can't be.

Rules (as much as they are)

Dice

Right now, the way to resolve actions is by using 1d6-1d6 i.e. roll 2d6 with one being a positive die and one being a negative die and representing each with different colored die. Now, one way of doing this is to simply add the negative and positive dice like so this:

Jack Burton needs to make a strength check. He rolls a 4 on the blue (positive) die and a 5 on the red (negative) die. 4 + -5 = -1. So his result is his base strength - 1 (plus other mods)


However, this requires two arithmetic operations and thus slows down the game needlessly. A statistically similar system is to roll 2d6s (one positive and one negative) and add the lower roll, with ties being 0. Using the previous example:

Jack Burton now needs to make a constitution check. He rolls a 3 on the blue (positive) die and a 6 on the red (negative) die. 3 < 6, so his result is his base constitution + 3

Now, there are a number of advantages of using this system over others. First, is that the results are non-linear e.g. +/- 6 is a lot rarer than 0. In other words, results both tend towards average results and have smaller standard deviation. Very good results and very bad results are both rare (and should be treasured or cursed, respectively). Second, everything is zero-centered. D&D, for example, is 10-centered. The advantage of having everything zero-centered is that there is no modifications to an opposed roll. For example, in D&D an attack bonus of +5 is equivalent to an AC of 15 while in this system an attack bonus of +5 is equivalent to a defense bonus of +5. Which leads to the next advantage: eventually, this system should accommodate different degrees of variance. For example, Poker is a game with much more variance than Chess, but most games which simulate a Poker game and a Chess game in a fundamentally similar way, changing only which skill and/or stat applied. In this system, Chess could use a 2d4, 2d3, or even just a 2d2 while Poker could use a 2d6 or 2d8. Finally, the only thing that needs to be done with a roll is a simple comparison and arithmetic using relatively small numbers. This means that the time between rolling and finding out what the results are is reduced in comparison to, say, d20 or a d6 dice pool.

Action Resolution

At it's most basic, to resolve an action, you roll the die, and add the result to the skill or stat. If the result is high enough, you succeed. If not, you fail.

Of course, there's more to it than that. First, the degree of success could be important (as it is when damaging an opponent in combat). In this case, then the difference between the check number and your result becomes the degree of success. [Bit duh. Flesh out further. Might want to make it not go on a one-to-one basis and certain skills might have a higher amount to increase threshold of result]

Attributes

[For now, the attributes are Body (BOD), Mind (MND), and Willpower (POW). Body is used for most physical actions, Mind for mental actions, and Willpower is used to resist control, taunting, and doing heroic stuff like ignoring wounds that would normally kill a man]

[There might also be secondary attributes that describe the character but are non-random, something like size or base run speed. Of course, these could also be just derived stats.]

Attributes increase during gameplay. Each attributes has a track which is filled up by the increase in skills. When this track is filled up, then the attribute in question is increased by 1 and the track resets to zero.

Attributes are added to skills to determine the base rating. For example to run faster than normal, you would use BOD/Athletics.

The average for a modern, first-world country, college-educated, physically fit person is 10 [arbitrary, for now. The variance from 2d6 might be two much, but that's something to be determined in actual gameplay, especially since skills are going to add around 2-6+ to the check]. An obese man would have a BOD of 4 while an Olympic athlete would have a BOD of 20+. A functionally retarded man or a young toddler would have a MND of 4 and a genius with 4 PHDs who speaks 12 languages (including Sanskrit) would have a MND of 20+.

Skills

All skills have a base die which is the die sized rolled when making that check.

The die sizes, from lowest variance to highest variance, are:

  • d2
  • d3
  • d4
  • d6
  • d8
  • d10
  • d12


Skills have 5 ranks: Amateur Novice Trained Professional Legendary

and a special rank of Untrained for a skill which the player character has no experience in.

For all skills, a rank of Untrained means the player receives a -2 penalty to the check and uses the base die.

Each rank (except for Amateur) decreases the size of the base die and provides a bonus to the skill equal to the change in dice size (min +1). All changes are cumulative. For example:

[Arbitrary] has a base die of d8. If a character where to increase their rank from Amateur to Novice, then the new die size would be d6 and the player would get a +2 bonus when using that skill. If that same character was to increase their rank from Novice to Trained, then they would use a d4 and the player would get a +4 bonus (2+2) when using that skill.

In other words, as a character increases in skill then the range of their results decreases while the median result increases. Most skills have a minimum die size that can be used. The die size cannot be decreased to lower than this (though the character still receives a +1 bonus per rank). Going back to the last example:

Lord Homungous now has an [Arbitrary] skill at rank Trained which means he rolls d4 and gets a +4 bonus with the skill. He ranks up to Professional, but the minimum die size for [Arbitrary] is d4. So, he now rolls d4 and gets a +5 bonus with the skill.

Finally, [though not currently written into actual rules] having a high rank says what actions are automatic for your character to do i.e. don't require a dice roll to determine success. If the degree of success is important, then the character still rolls but any result which indicates a failure is considered the lowest degree of success.

Skills also have one final property: the learning track. Each skill, as mentioned in attributes, has a track which says how far the PC has progressed in that skill. Each time the track fills up, the skill ranks up and the track resets to nothing. There are two ways to increase the track: using the skill in a sufficiently dramatic context (pretty much any time it's not an automatic success) and by spending time training. Each skill has a certain time to train up one on the track [might be different for every rank]. In keeping with the longstanding traditions of the mentor archetype, a character can help another character reduce the time it takes to train a skill [how exactly is to be determined at a later point in time]. In a more realistic game, it would be extremely difficult to increase a skill after a certain point without the help of a mentor/extensive library/high-speed VR training. However, realism is definitely a changeable variable and if the genre of your action game encourages self-taught heroes, then so be it.

Sample Settings

Classic Wuxia, high-tech cyberpunk, 80s spy, heroic bloodshed, summer blockbuster, space marines and aliens

Sample Characters