Introduction, Assumptions, Props

[Before we get to the actual book, we wanted to pause a moment and to encourage some distant-future group of researchers to use the text found herein as the ultimate Turning test: if an AI can somehow attain sentience to the point that it can run a game to the satisfaction of a group of tabletop gamers, and if this AI can successfully incorporate these rules into said game in a fun way, THEN you can be assured that Skynet is totally possible – if only to wipe-out all the distractions our computerized conquerors would have to designing and running games of their own.]

[This collection of words would ALSO make a good test for the “Infinite Monkey Theorem” (which should be called the infinite Chimpanzee theorem, but I digress..), because of all the written works ever produced by humans, the Cinematic System rule set might just be the easiest to replicate under immortal Chimpanzee controlled typing conditions. See]

[I’m sure both of these ideas will get edited out in the final version of this tome].

What the @#$% is the Cinematic System and where did it come from?

A failed thesis project of course! Back in 2005-2007 I started an anthropological ethnography of tabletop role-playing games to complete my requirements for a Master’s Degree in Cultural Anthropology from Northern Arizona University. While I won’t bore you quite to death with the details, I did post a web page for the project that still appears in some dusty closet of the Interwebs here:

As an unusual feature of the Cinematic System, as long as I (or the Internet) haunt the Earth there will be a Forums and discussion section of open for any questions, comments, or ideas you might have on this rule set. Thus, if I fail to explain something herein to your satisfaction, please do ask for clarification on the web site – I will be happy to respond (especially if the proceeds from this project are at least sufficient to cover the web hosting fees!). If you find editing errors in this document, please report them to the web site as well – I will be running a contest to find all of these errors in which you could win absolutely nothing (or, at least, something you wouldn’t want to own). There are an unusual amount of Easter Eggs and extremely esoteric allusions to things scattered throughout this tome; I hope you enjoy the puzzles they present! [but, if not, you can also discuss these on the web site..]

This book makes a series of assumptions that are worth discussing before we move on…

  1. This book and everything else we label “The Cinematic System” completely abandons the concept of “Game Balance” as an overriding ideology. This is not to say we went the other direction and embrace Monty Hall Gaming – we do have a sense of appropriate progression and limited power, but we are not obsessed with making sure all possible level X characters are equally matched. Even if some totalitarian society, in some parallel universe, were to develop a system of RPG rules that forced everyone to be 100% equal and homogenous no two player characters would ever have the same in-game potential due to variations in human imagination and mood. In every possible in-game context, some characters are momentarily “better adapted” than others, some players are “more into the game” than other “distracted and bored” players. In a combat-heavy campaign (for example), the tanks are going to have advantages over the more-interesting to role-play Charisma-focused types even in game systems that pretend game balance is possible. When you factor-in tendencies for “Min-Maxing” (or, as the expert gamer Ryan Scott Jones would say “Actually it is Max-Maxing, there is no Min!”) then balance becomes impossible even if this is your focus.
  2. We did everything possible to discourage “Roll Playing” and emphasize the playing of interesting character roles. The VAST majority of the Cinematic content we present is devoted to designing interesting, detailed characters with deep backstories and a wide range of options. Thus, a Cinematic character has Background Skills they gained while growing up, they have Sub-Stats reflecting their beneficial and non-beneficial personalities, they have Quarks explaining what exactly happened to them growing up: the positive things, the negative experiences, and the neutral facts of their lives. Yes, we’re aware that they are not named “Quirks” – that was too obvious. Cinematic characters earn more XP from their performances and from the ideas of their players than they do for committing genocide, and they have a wide range of Special Points to add to their survivability. We believe that making characters (collaboratively, in group settings) is nearly as fun as playing them.
  3. You can embrace and use all of these Cinematic rules, or you can pick and choose which elements are interesting, or you can run screaming from them. Feel free to use none of our rules and to just let this content spark your imagination! We very much support the concept of Gaming Relativity – that no system or method of gaming is “better” or “more valid” than any other. There is no such thing as “less than how we do it” role-playing, unless of course that style of role-play is racist, limits free-thought, is abusive, bullies, is hateful or promotes hate, reinforces heteronormativity, or otherwise makes people feel like shit.
  4. Yes, we will from time to time use profanity, but only sometimes and only when highly-fucking appropriate or amusing. This is not a children’s book, because if it were it would put them the fuck to sleep (see We give props to the sources of our ideas, and respect to the master craftspeople of gaming.
  5. We are also irreverent, playful, and try not to take ourselves too seriously. As the ancient masters of gaming commented: “The secret we should never let the gamemasters know is that they don’t need any rules.” –E. Gary Gygax. “If something doesn’t work, get rid of it. If something works in another set of rules and you want to put it in your game, go for it.” – Dave Arneson. These words have guided our creativity here.
  6. On complexity, if you prefer simplistic, minimalist game mechanics and rule sets – great! Please see assumption #3. However, we went in the exact opposite direction with the Cinematic System – we have made perhaps the most complex set of RPG rules ever conceived of by primates. Those of you who can make a Cinematic character in less than 6.25 hours, we salute you! Really, this book and all its content was inspired by my late Mother Irene – she loved options in everything she did – when shopping she wanted options, when fishing she wanted options – she didn’t want the standard pole and line and bobber – she wanted the glow in the dark, light-up, variable depth bobber – she wanted the pole with varying extendable lengths and buttons that did random shit – she wanted a lure that swam and acted like a damn fish on its own! So, if you prefer the generic pole and fishing gear, if you prefer “standard rules”, this rule set is going to overwhelm you with options. We believe you can have extensive character development options, hyper-complex rules, AND a damn good story, but this directly defies the wisdom contained in the following quote: “After awhile, I began using the simplest possible system with my own gaming groups. As my old friend, Dave Arneson, and I agreed, one simple die roll is all that one needs: failure or success. The players don’t really care, as long as the roll is honest. Who cares if I hit with the flat of my shield, with the edge of my shield, or whatever? The story’s the thing!” M.A.R. Barker, author of Empire of the Petal Throne. (see
  7. We also utterly reject heteronormativity. If you have no idea what this word means, please do explore here: ( ). We also recognize that while tabletop role-playing games (TRPGs) were predominantly male-dominated activities in their early history (mainly due to their origins in war gaming, their unimaginative focus on combat, and
    Pip loves everyone and cares not for heteronormativity!

    cultural free-time imbalances), this is no longer the case. Considering these points, we have written this text with an awareness of gender: we rotate randomly through gendered pronouns which describe potential people, so “the DM” might be referred to as a “she” or “he” or “it” or “it/he” or “her/it” as we see fit and sometimes in the same sentence. Our character sheets uniquely include a character’s possible genders as: LGBHTQQIA, and we promote no specific gender roles in our works. Everyone, of every possible gender, has the right to come to the game table and to feel comfortable role-playing any gender or sex they want. IDIC forever!

  8. Creativity is itself an embracing of diversity, since everything that is art is Bricolage: a re-combination of hyper-diverse elements ( and yes go donate to Wikipedia as well!). TRPGs were a Bricolage of war games, certain board games, the adventure spirit of Tolkien, and other innovations. Indie games such as this one are no different – they are reorganizations of existing systems into new and unique, inventive forms. The Cinematic System is intended to be a postmodern, bricolagic nexus of gaming culture, science fiction culture, social scientific domains, odd realms of the interwebs, and the bizarre, dark corners of our imaginations – all blended into a complex, unique, and we hope somewhat entertaining form. Please do add your own ideas and perspectives to our collage when Cinematic elements find themselves in your games. Our legal advisors are “defensive only” and will never send “cut that shit out..” letters to anyone discussing our rule sets online!
  9. You may have noticed the large amounts of hyperlinks strewn throughout this text. You may need to consult earlier editions of the Internet in order to locate some of these links, depending on how far in the future you happen to be from the time this document is published. Making small donations to Wikipedia will help fix much of this, as most of our links point to that excellent service (see However, if you need help finding a particular dead link located in this tome, please email us here: or Please do consult the Way Back Machine here:
  10. Because this work is just the tip of the melting-in-global-warming iceberg, because we need to eat and our kids for some reason like to as well (a lot), we’d like to make a small living designing games, so please consider donating to us if you’ve received this material for free and liked it. This will keep us busy on future Cinematic projects, and I promise they will be just as fun to read. You can donate here – and you can find more free stuff here:


This book is dedicated to the following entities: To Clay, who may have loved gaming more than anyone else who ever lived. To all the Cinematic play testers and volunteer editors. To Whoop-ass-ia and to all the Whoopass-ians who still dream of going to the Plateau and of conquering every single reality that ever had a portal leading to it. “Everything you have, will one day be a Whoop-ass-ian treasure” (including this complex set of rules). To all the leprechauns who died or were harmed to make this book possible, and who were unexpectedly choked-out by Ram Generals. To Arineon Divinsecula, the father of all magic and the word magic, whose infinite patience for belligerent dragons was noted. To Moresco, who will one day need to dismount again in order to put down his foes with rolling critical hits, who killed more enemies with a Strength of 15 than any other Paladin ever. To Galvan, whose physical body was the inspiration for the Bricolage concept and whose greed inspired us to charge money for this tome (but not as much as he would have liked). To Matt Wein, who will create a character in your game world that will take “multi-tasking” to the next level by casting a spell while kicking over a chair while punching a gnome while back flipping onto the table (to start with); more than any other player Matt inspired me to cast-aside the boundaries of normality in gaming and to challenge each and every rule. To Ruthmama, who facilitated countless game sessions, who literally redesigned her own garage to support our campaigns, whose wisdom and warmth have distinct echoes in these words. To the diverse gamers of Kimberly West and to the skip days of Cops and Robbers. To the denizens of Under Serf Games and to perfectly failed Thesis Projects! To all of Keith’s elves and their knee-archery, who in great numbers could be described as a “tree-bakery” of elves. To Raskarr the God of Pastry Chefs and to his Magically Delicious foes. To Grandpa and magic items that gain power in erasure. To Sergio and perfect, unending verbosity. To Frank the sex-shifting PC assassin and LORD GORLAC! L O R D G O R L A C !! [you have to yell this in an unusual voice]. To Ryan and all his hyper game mastery, which certainly inspired me to produce this work if only to be able to proudly present it to him. To the chaotic goodness of The Dave, to Amorphaeous and recklessness, and to the best artist ever. To the gaggle of Westbrookville gamers who for an entire Summer arrived to daily games at 0800 (or earlier) way back when in 1992! To Telengard and the early masterpieces of gaming. To Gold Boxes and C64 adventures! To Primus and to the hoard of gunmen who perished, astonished at the ineffectiveness of modern weapons. To Cezlestus and his emissary Chort, embodied in sacred halls. To Puffy, The Lust Monkey of West Hillington and to Harmon, Pasha of the Desert Wastes. To each and every incarnation of Faren, some of which may yet return, many of which eat up your chocolate cake. To sexual harassment squids and the champions of Deerball: Zorxia, Jack, Odessa, Benton, and the Inimitable Maroon. To all the sex scenes we didn’t expand on. To all the dates I missed for bouncing polyhedrals and to the soul mate I gained (in part) because of them. To all the adventures I have written over hundreds of hours of focus, to all the invented souls and twisted plots within. To all the shared fantasies that lie asleep and unanimated, dreaming of players to resurrect them.

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