Cinematic Special Points

Special Points: Fate Points, Conditional Fate Points,Character Points, Toughness Points, Stat Points.

The five basic species of “special points” (fate, conditional fate, character, toughness, and stat in their order of significance) evolved in the Cinematic System well before cinematic hit points. Their purpose, aside from adding delicious layers of complexity, was to increase the survivability of player characters with a system of rewards that were based on their actions and experiences. Whereas in other systems, player characters can die as a direct result of bad die rolling and circumstance, Cinematic System characters don’t usually succumb to these forces until their (and their groups’) special points are expended. Special points allow gaming groups to turn up the difficulty level of their campaigns – to run more dangerous, more exciting games overall. The addition of special points to campaigns where resurrection magic is commonplace or easily achieved, where the threat of player character death is minimal, or where humor is emphasized over serious game-play will make them less useful, less aesthetically pleasing than we see them to be. The labels that evolved to describe our special points might share some similarity with the “game mechanical debitage” of other systems: this is pure coincidence and not an attempt at “bricolagic” theft.

Fate Points

   Each starting Cinematic System player character begins with one fate point. Fate points are precious: they represent the fact that the player characters are the main characters in an ongoing, epic story. As such, these characters should be unusually durable and hard to eradicate; if there were credits that rolled after game sessions, they would start with the characters with fate points. Fate points can be spent (as an instant free action) to modify in-game circumstances in the player character’s favor. The player gets to propose how the in-game circumstances are modified, and the DM is the final arbiter of the resulting effect. For example, let’s say that a series of die rolls indicate that a gigantic magical explosion has just incinerated your character. You decide to spend a fate point to avoid this and offer the following modification to the in-game script: “My character is hit by the preceding pressure wave of the explosion and gets rolled into the corner of the room where the magical fire just doesn’t reach as it rebounds off the floor and other surfaces of the area..” The DM agrees and you take no damage. Let’s say your character’s opponent just beheaded her – you spend a fate point and offer the following alternative: “my character perceives the incoming attack…from her perspective time slows down, adrenalin rushes through her veins, and she manages to bring up her sword and parry just in time.” The DM agrees, and your character survives. Fate points are powerful: only the say so of the Dungeon Master has the right to trump a fate point: fate points beat-out every other consideration. Additional fate points can be earned by accomplishing particularly heroic or astonishing in-game deeds, or through consistent, high-caliber role-playing the likes of which would earn fantasy-academy-award nominations.

Some specific examples of the use of fate points include, but are not limited to..

  • Your character fails a saving throw: if you spend your character’s fate point, the saving throw is instead successful. A clever player could ask to spend the fate point to pass the save, and to know the source of the attack. This is acceptable, as fate points are mighty: In this case a DM might allow the save to be passed automatically, and then ask for a low-DC Luck ability check (an extra base stat in the Cinematic System) from the player to get the extra knowledge effect, as fate points are clearly interwoven with luckiness. However, if the player asked for the spell effect to not affect them and to rebound at the caster, the situation is different. Fate points only automatically function when used defensively. Offensive uses of fate points are possible, but these cases always result in opposed rolls favoring the target of the fate point’s offensiveness (as we will see below).
  • Your character suffers a critical hit, and would otherwise lose her arm. By spending a fate point, the blow might be parried, dodged, or it might outright miss. The player spending the fate point would get to decide – or at least have a strong say in which reality actually happened. Deciding on the in-game events resulting from the expenditure of fate points can be fun, and should involve all the players (and storytellers) at the table. Notice that I left out the possibility that the weapon critically hitting might break. A fate point could cause this, but again this would result in opposed rolls favoring the wielder of said weapon.
  • Another player character in your character’s party, as the result of wild magic, gets transmuted into a mass of warm, liquid goo. You could spend your character’s fate point to allow your party member to make the save and resist the effect. By convention, you can always spend a fate point to help another player character, and this never involves any sort of rolls to “pass” the point on (as is the case with character points and toughness points for example). This act of selflessness should rank as one of the Dungeon Master’s highest experience point awards, because it fosters group cohesion. When spending fate points, keep in mind that it is a metagame action: we assume the player is doing the spending, not the character. Thus, your character does not have to be aware of an event or attack to modify it with a fate point, and there should never be any worry over “what the character would do,” since the character doesn’t know anything about fate points.
  • Your character gets picked up by a Titan named “El Way”, and thrown like a football off the edge of the Grand Canyon. Luckily, she has a fate point. By spending the fate point to get out of this situation, any number of things might occur. The DM has final say over what does happen, but again everyone at the table should get involved in the discussion. The atmosphere of the particular group plays a major role here. If the campaign is lighthearted and less concerned with “fantasy realism,” then perhaps the character-projectile takes on the aerodynamic characteristics of a boomerang, hooking out and returning toward the Titan. Perhaps a large gust of wind kicks up and carries the character to safety. Perhaps the Titan misses completely or drops the character (but if I were the character, I’d try to argue for no damage from the fall – a fate point could do that.) But, what if the character-projectile were more desperate? In the event of offensive fate point expenditures (in this case, trying to use the fate point to give the Titan a heart attack as he moves to make the throw for example), consider the next discussion point.

Using fate points offensively: As a general rule, fate points used defensively (to make saving throws and such) do not tempt fate. When fate points are used offensively the DM should treat them like wish spells – if a character gets too greedy (thus tempting fate so to speak) the DM should require an opposed Luck check (again, in the Cinematic System, Luck is a new base stat) which favors the victim. The more significance a victim of a fate point has to the overall story the harder it should be to hurt them with it. Thus, player characters are the toughest characters to harm with fate point expenditures. Consider these examples…

Fate Point Spent By

Purpose of Expenditure

Sample Result

PC

To auto-kill another PC.

The DM would ask for a specific method. If this were simply ridiculous, like having a piece of modern space junk fall out of the sky in a fantasy setting, the attempt automatically fails and the PC making the request loses the fate point, possibly also taking luck damage if a DC 20 luck check is failed. Let’s say, however, that the PC making the request fires an arrow at the target PC and spends the fate point to critically hit and kill the target (and the hit roll is inconsequential). In this case, the DM asks for opposed luck checks, with the defender gaining a +4 bonus to the roll. If the defender wins, the attacking PC suffers a critical fumble, somehow killing himself with the bow shot. If the attacking PC wins the check the target is not automatically slain, but instead gets a DC 12 Fortitude save to avoid the arrow shot completely. Getting more specific, let’s say the arrow shot’s hit roll was a critical hit, and the attacking PC spends the fate point to score an instant death critical hit result. In this case, an opposed luck check, with only a +1 bonus for the defender should be made. If the defender wins, whatever the actual critical hit roll rolled is the final result (with no additional consequence for the attacker). If the attacker wins, the defending PC gets a DC 20 fortitude save to avoid instant death.

PC

To auto-kill all other PCs with an explosive device (for example).

This would result in the same kind of luck checks as described above, with the attacking PC needing to beat every other PC for the stunt to work. If even one defending player rolls better, the device explodes and destroys the attacker, with no saving throw applied.

PC

To auto-kill an insignificant NPC with a bow shot (for example).

The attempt would result in an opposed luck check between the two characters, with no one given an advantage. If the attacker wins, the minor character is slain, no saving throw applied. If the defender wins, the attacking PC gets a reflex save to avoid a critical fumble. Optionally, the DM might rule the attempt automatically succeeds, but in either case the wisdom of the PC is in question…

PC

To auto-kill a major campaign antagonist with a bow shot (for example).

Treat the major villain like any other player character, using the guidelines set forth here. The DM should discourage the use of fate points as instant “kill the major enemy” cards, and might well award less experience points for foes defeated in this manner.

PC

To re-roll a particularly bad saving throw, hit roll, and so forth…

DM allows the roll and awards role-playing experience points for good sportsmanship! After all, the player could have used the fate point to simply accomplish the roll. Here, fate is satisfied, and might bestow bonus luck stat points (see the section on these special points) on the DM’s whim.

A major campaign antagonist

To kill a PC in one of the ways listed above…

Major antagonists are essentially treated as player characters, using the rules and guidelines above.

Spending a fate point offensively is always dangerous, with the possibility that the desired effect could rebound on the character making the request of fate. Clearly there are more potential situations that can arise than the game mechanics can account for – at some point the DM will have to just make a decision. Fate points are more powerful than wishes and miracles, but greed is always dangerous. Spending a fate point to remove negative levels or ability damage is acceptable, but spending a fate point to become immune to magical weapons should almost certainly fail – perhaps fate sets it up that the character gets kidnapped during the adventure and taken to an extra-dimensional space for safe keeping?

Of course, whenever an opponent spends a fate point (or any other special point for that mater) against your character, you can immediately respond by spending a point of your own: a fate point can cancel out another fate point.

There sometimes comes into question the situation in which the timing of fate point expenditures becomes an issue. The classic example of this occurred one session in which a particularly ridiculous and unusually brave gnome bit into a magical pomegranate that bestowed water breathing in such a manner that normal air could not be breathed: when the DM asked if he wanted to spend a fate point to recover the ability to breathe as he was losing consciousness, the player replied: “No, I’ll see where this goes..” The gnome asphyxiated and died. In this case, the DM did not allow the player to then spend his fate point – the moment, the window for it had gone. This window is totally up to the DM, but generally occurs when he or she says “Ok, now would be a good time to spend your fate point…” It would be extremely poor form for a DM to lie about this, although for some reason certain players tend to suspect DMs are being deceptive in these situations. As a general rule, players can know the effect of a spell or situation before they decide to spend a fate point, unless the DM decides otherwise, which might happen if this knowledge would provide otherwise impossible to know, crucial information that would sway the actions of the other PCs.

Conditional Fate Points

(and other “conditional” special points)

A special point with a “conditional” modifier is one which can only be used in certain contexts or situations, or which is in some way more limited than a standard Cinematic special point. Any kind of special point can be “conditional.” A conditional fate point is a special kind of fate point whose utility is restricted to a specific (usually brief) narrative that accompanies it. Typical examples of conditional fate points are as follows…

  • A conditional fate point useable “to re-roll a saving throw.”
  • A conditional fate point useable “to instantly recover 2d6 points of damage after being hit with an evocation effect.”
  • A conditional fate point useable “to avoid a critical hit.”

Conditional special points follow the all the rules in the Cinematic System that special points do. When they are spent, they usually go away (unless their narrative says otherwise). Conditional fate points can be “trumped” by fate points and DM (let’s say divine) intervention. Thus, if a PC spent a conditional fate point “to re-roll a saving throw” another PC could spend their fate point to “block” this expenditure (and even to re-word the effect of the conditional fate point). Conflicting conditional fate points spent in the same meta-game context usually require opposed rolls with logic set by the DM.

In Cinematic System rules, all starting characters begin play with one conditional fate point. By convention, the player rolls a d20 (traditionally referred to as the “d20 of usefulness”) and the DM bases the utility of the conditional fate point on this roll. Thus, a roll of a 1 on the d20 of usefulness might be something like a conditional fate point “..to avoid a critical hit from a giant spotted frog’s tongue attack”, while a roll of 19 might be a conditional fate point “..to re-roll any die rolled in the game” (this one can be particularly potent if applied to the DM’s roll). A roll of a natural 20 on the d20 of usefulness has, with DM whim, resulted in the award of a full additional fate point.

It is worth noting that we at Funmunitions have devised a rather gigantic table of thousands of possible conditional fate points that we offer for free by clicking here: d5000 Conditional Fate Points

Conditional fate points are awarded with experience points at the whim of the DM, and usually reflect something a player character has done in the game that stood out as being particularly cool. Thus, if a character made some amazing parries during a game session, the DM might award a conditional fate point “to gain a +4 to a parry attempt.” Conditional fate points can also add permanent benefits, so using the same example the DM might decide to bestow a conditional fate point “to permanently gain a +1 to parry rolls.” The player would be a fool not to immediately spend this kind of conditional point.

As a general rule, PCs should earn at least 1 conditional fate point for every adventure session they survive.

Character Points

Cinematic System player characters begin with character points equal to d4 + [their Luck stat modifier]. Character points can be spent as instant, free, metagame actions and modify die rolls (or sometimes actions/events) by plus or minus 1 for every point spent (+/-5% for percentage die rolls). Thus, if a player rolls a saving throw on a d20 and gets a 12, she could spend two character points (assuming they had them) to make the resulting save a 14. Alternatively, he could have spent the two character points to lower the save to a 10.

Generally speaking, when a character spends character points to influence an opponent (such as by adding bonuses to a hit roll), the opponent is allowed to react to the expenditure and spend character points which “block,” on a 1:1 basis, the first points spent. Thus, if character A spends 2 character points to modify her hit roll at character B +2, her opponent (character B) is then allowed to spend character points to modify this roll (if any are possessed). Since any expenditure of character points allows a response, this sequence can cycle back again to Character A. Players may only spend character points on die rolls or actions their characters (or their familiars) are involved with. There is, however, a mechanic for “passing” special points to other characters, which will be discussed later.

Character points are earned as a direct consequence of good role-playing, which includes such things as speaking in character and separating player and character (in-game and above-game) knowledge. In a typical five hour session, a good role-player might earn 3 or 4 character points. The DM will record how many role-playing scenes result in character points and award these with normal XP.

20 character points can be cashed-in all at once in exchange for a fate point as a metagame action that takes place when the character is in a safe place – usually in between game sessions – but never when a fate point is actually needed in game play (the Fracturing Fate feat is an exception to this). Other uses for character points include…

  • Add/subtract +1 to a die roll under d100, or up to +5% to a d100 roll, or up to +50 to a d1000 roll. When the modifier per character point is greater than one, the maximum possible + or – doesn’t have to be applied; so in the case of a d1000 roll, a character point could add or subtract from 1-50 to or from the roll.
  • Instantly gain 5 stat points (described in the next section).
  • Instantly heal 1 point of damage [not soak or gain permanently]
  • Instantly recover 1 point of temporary stat damage or ¼ points of permanent stat damage.

Character points are never used to modify the initial 9 base stats (Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Dexterity, Constitution, Charisma, Comeliness, Luck, and Speed) during character generation, but they can be used to modify unusual sub-stat rolls, such as those acquired as the result of wild magic. Character points can be used to add to hit die rolls, but never to exceed the maximum possible roll for a hit die.

Toughness Points

Starting Cinematic System player characters start play with as many toughness points as their constitution modifier (but at least one). When a toughness point is spent, it “soaks” d4 lethal damage that would have otherwise just reduced a character’s hit point total. Toughness points can soak non-lethal damage as well – in these situations roll a d8 instead of a d4 for the damage soaked. While toughness points seem to serve a healing purpose, they can only be used when a character takes damage to reduce this damage. Spending a toughness point is an instant, free, metagame action that takes no real time in-game. Characters are as unaware of toughness points as they are any other special point.

Toughness points are earned by taking damage in the course of an adventure (by getting your ass kicked). The standard toughness point is a d4 scale, but other types of toughness points are possible: d6, d8, etc. As a metagame action that takes place while in a safe place (never when immediately needed), a character can cash in 20 toughness points to gain a +1 permanent damage reduction (damage reduction 1/–). If, say, a character had damage reduction 2/– as a class feature, trading in 20 toughness points would raise this to damage reduction 3/–. Twenty more cashed in would earn the character damage reduction 4/–. A character with no damage reduction cashing in 20 toughness points would gain damage reduction 1/–.

As a general rule, a character will earn one d4 toughness point for every X hit points of damage they have taken where X = their maximum possible hit die roll times their level. Thus, a level 4 sorcerer would earn a d4 toughness point every time they took 16 points of damage in the course of adventuring (not necessarily all from one source). These earned toughness points are given out by the DM with normal experience points. Sometimes, a DM may decide to give out toughness points as special rewards, upon surviving critical hits, or out of sheer whim. In particularly challenging campaigns, PCs might start with more than the usual amount of toughness points.

Other die types of toughness points may count as more than one toughness point when trading them in: take the die type, divide it by 4, and round up. Thus, a d6 toughness point counts as 2, a d10 counts as 3, etc. For example, a character could trade in 10 normal toughness points along with two d20 toughness points to earn a damage reduction bonus. Conditional toughness points, while rare, count at half value (rounded down) in regard to trading them in. Therefore a d20 conditional toughness point, only useable for blunt weapons, would trade in as 3 toughness points because 20/4 = 5 and 5/2 rounds up to three. In this way a conditional d4 toughness point is just as useful as a toughness point when trading in. However, in actual game play, we found that conditional toughness points are rare and clumsy.

Stat Points

(and Sub-Stat Points)

The basic idea for stat points derive from the First Edition Unearthed Arcana Rulebook’s Cavalier section. In those rules, Cavaliers could increase their Strength, Constitution, and Dexterity scores through practice and training. Each time they leveled-up, they were allotted 2d10 points to place in each stat, where each point was one hundredth (1/100) of a full stat point. These fractions of stats were recorded in parentheses next to the base stat number (much in the way 2nd Edition exceptional strength worked).

Each stat point in Cinematic System rules are 1/100th of a stat. Their use replaces the standard +1 to a chosen stat every 4 levels as laid out in someone’s core rules. Stat points are awarded along with normal experience points. When a character is awarded stat points, that character’s player decides “where” the stat points are placed. Stat points can be distributed as the player sees fit, and “put in” any stat. When a stat’s stat point total equals 100, the stat increases one, and the associated stat points are reset to zero. Thus, if a character had stats as follows…(and notice the stat points already existing in wisdom, constitution, and speed)…

Strength 16
Intelligence 14
Wisdom 12 (45)
Dexterity 16
Constitution 14 (73)
Charisma 18
Comeliness 12
Luck 19
Speed 22 (12)

And received 30 stat points after an adventure, the player might (for example) place 27 stat points in constitution (raising the stat to 15), and distributing the remaining three points as follows…

Strength 16 (01)		
Intelligence 14 (01)	
Wisdom 12 (45)
Dexterity 16
Constitution 15(0)	
Charisma 18
Comeliness 12
Luck 19
Speed 22 (13)

In Cinematic System rules, one character point can be exchanged for 5 stat points as a metagame action that can take place when the character is in a safe place. Also, stat points can be purchased with experience points, but generally they are earned along with normal XP. Stat points are usually positive, with 100 hundred combining to raise a stat one, but they can also be negative, with 100 negative stat points combining to lower a stat one. When a player places stat points, she decides if they are + or -, as awarded or purchased stat points can be either one. All Cinematic player characters start play with a few stat points (see the character generation section).

When characters are awarded stat points, they receive an equal amount of sub-stat points as well which function to modify the character’s sub-stats in the method described above. As with stat points, sub-stat points can be positive or negative at the whim of the player. Stat points can modify both the 9 base stats as well as any sub-stats a character has, whereas sub-stat points are only useful for modifying sub-stats.

Special Rules for Special Points

“The Response Rule”: Whenever someone spends a special point to gain an advantage over someone else, that character can immediately respond by spending a special point of their own. This response can then be responded to, and so forth until all special point expenditures that particular moment end. Thus, a character could spend a conditional fate point “to gain a +2 to hit” and add this +2 to their hit roll, and in response the target could spend two character points to add to their defense roll and have the attack miss. The first character could then spend a character point to once again hit, etc.

“Passing” Special Points: Giving other characters your character’s special points is a great way to earn experience points in the Cinematic System. Fate points and stat points can be freely traded between players with no passing mechanic required. In order to “pass” a character point, toughness point, or conditional fate point on to another character, there are two main options a DM has to use. Option one would be to call for a “second edition style” Luck check from the passing character (thus, roll d20 and get your Luck score or under), which would pass the special point on. To “catch” the point, the same roll is required of the recipient. Option two is similar, requiring DC 10 Luck checks from both the passer and the recipient. Whatever option used, if both checks succeed the point is passed (a free metagame action taking no real time): if either fail the point is lost as it fades into the cosmos, unless someone nearby has the Luck Magnet feat and manages to snatch it back up. Obviously, passing a special point on to another character means you no longer have it. Keep in mind that Fate points never need rolls to transfer – nor do they really need to transfer as a character can spend them for anyone/anything else in the game.

Do NPCs have special points too? Sure, why not. As a DM I try to limit fate, conditional fate, character, and toughness points to special NPCs and major villains. You could assume everyone else spent their special points getting out of childhood alive, or perhaps they just aren’t cool enough to have as any (or as many) as the main characters. But let me warn you, there’s nothing so demoralizing to a group of players than hearing “Your critical hit misses as your opponent spends a fate point…”

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