Creating a Character: Stats and Sub-Stats

Creating a Character, Cinematic System style.

(get comfy and prepare for 6.2 hours of work)

If you have a pre-printed character sheet you’ve grown used to when making core system characters, it isn’t going to work here. Most of the play testers who participated in the evolution of the Cinematic System ended up recording their characters in notebooks because of the space requirements involved – a practice we highly recommend.

We did go to the trouble to create a set of Cinematic System character sheets – prepare to kill some trees (forests really) if you print them out! Click here to access them.

The first thing to notice is the addition of three new base stats: Comeliness, Speed, and Luck. Comeliness has existed (officially) in the history of fantasy RPGs ever since the Unearthed Arcana rules expansion: we have simply resurrected it because it makes sense to separate personality from attractiveness. As for Speed and Luck, these have existed throughout the history of tabletop gaming in various forms (even making an appearance in the obscure Cops and Robbers homebrew RPG, developed by Clay Layton, A. J. Aaron, and Michael Van Ness in early 1990s Columbus, Ohio). All told, you will be rolling 9 base stats.

Mechanic for rolling stats: Players roll 4d6 nine times, each time taking the highest three (of the 4 rolled). If the DM is in a fairly decent mood, any die result of a “1” can be re-rolled once. Thus, if a player rolled a 3, 5, 6, and 1 when rolling 4d6 during one of their nine rolls, they could re-roll the 1. If this re-roll was, say, a 6 the stat would become a 17. if, instead, the re-roll was another “1” the stat would be a 14. This process generates a list of stats that can be placed as the player sees fit. Players can roll as many lists of stats as they wish to get the stats they want, but each of the 9 values must have been rolled consecutively. Thus far, the record holder for “time spent rolling stats” spent 7.50 hours rolling his base stats using this methodology…we don’t recommend this level of commitment.

Some random rules we’ve assimilated and developed associated with rolling the base stats include..

Four sixes is a 19: During character generation, if all four dice rolled for a particular potential stat value come up 6, then the ability is considered 19! Idea from:

Three 1’s is an 18: During character generation, if three of the four dice rolled for a particular potential stat value come up 1 on the first roll (and all 4 dice are not 1’s), then the ability is considered to be an 18.

Four 1’s is a 3: During character generation, if all of the four dice rolled for a particular potential stat value come up 1 on the first roll, the ability in question is considered to be a 3 and the 4th die rule does not apply to that roll (see below).

The 4th die rule: In the Cinematic System players typically roll 4d6 for their stats and take the highest three after re-rolling 1’s on the first try. The extra, 4th dice are tallied and become bonus starting stat points. (idea from Ian Kaplan). If a player takes the time to place all these stat points in the stat from whose roll they originated in, they count for double stat points.

An Alternative Stat Rolling Methodology “Heads Up 7-Up”: One interesting method we have used for generating base stats involves each player rolling their stats, in order, at the same time, in front of each other. Thus, everyone simultaneously rolls the first stat, then the second, etc. Once each stat has been rolled, everyone (except the DM) puts their heads down on the table. The DM calls for a vote: everyone who wants to re-roll their stats entirely raises their hands (in secret, as everyone’s head is down); if the majority want to re-roll, then everyone does. We’re not sure why this is fun, (we suspect we didn’t get enough of this game as children), but it leads to less-munchkinization.

The Extra Base Stats

(What the hell are Comeliness, Speed, and Luck?)

Comeliness, simply put, is a quantitative measure of how attractive your character is to other members of his species. Given that “attractiveness” is heavily influenced by cultural factors (I’m thinking in particular of drawn-in eyebrows here), it is probable that a given Comeliness value is specific to a given cultural group. Thus, a character with shaved and painted-in eyebrows with a comeliness of 12 might have a comeliness of, say, 6 in a different cultural context. Of all the base stats, Comeliness is perhaps the least useful, most under-role-played dumping ground for low stat rolls ever. However, we have devised several applications for Comeliness in the Cinematic System, such as in the Beautiful People and Looks Are What Counts feats.

Speed is a quantitative measure of how fast your character is as compared to other creatures who share your base move. It is entirely possible to be really fast, yet clumsy (with a high Speed stat and a low Dexterity), or the opposite. A character’s speed modifier will add or subtract to her base speed: for every +1 modifier the character moves an additional 5′ per round; for every -1 modifier the character is slowed 5′ per round. Thus, a small-ring-immune-humanoid with a Speed of 13 (typically a 20′ move character) would have a base move of 25′. This same polite-micro-dude with a Speed of 8 would have a base move of 15′. No character’s movement can be reduced below 5′ per round by negative Speed modifiers. Speed also replaces Dexterity as the stat that modifies a character’s bonus or penalty to initiative in the Cinematic System.

Luck is perhaps the most significant new base stat in the Cinematic System. We have already discussed the connections between the Luck stat and special points (luckier characters have an easier time using fate points and begin play with more character points). Given that Luck is a quantitative measure of how the forces of chance favor a character, its value waxes and wanes as a player’s die rolls vary. Luck is thus the only base stat that shifts its value automatically over time (assuming players are rolling dice). In the Cinematic System, the task of tracking player character luck modifications is left to the head storyteller: DMs will keep a running tally of the natural 1s and natural 20s each PC rolls. When experience points are awarded, the DM will count the number of 1s and the number of 20s each particular player character has accumulated: if there are an equal number of 20s and 1s that character’s Luck stat is unchanged. For every 20 that outnumbers that character’s accumulated 1s, the DM will award d10 bonus Luck stat points to the character. If instead, a character’s 1s outnumber her 20s, the DM will “award” d10 negative Luck stat points for each 1 that outnumbers her accumulated 20s. Players typically roll their own d10s for Luck stat points, whether negative or positive. An example of the process of “20s and 1s” is as follows…

A player character, let’s call him Arineon (but we’ll be careful what else we call him), is played for several sessions before the DM awards him experience points. During this time of accumulating XP, the DM records that Arineon rolled the following 20s and 1s: 1, 20, 1, 20, 1, 1, 1, 20, 20, 20, 20, 20. Thus, when experience is given, the DM will (unless she cheats) give Arineon 2d10 bonus Luck stat points (since there were 2 more 20s than 1s), which Arineon’s player rolls.

By tradition, any die with more sides than d20 is also eligible for consideration in the “20s and 1s” accounting. Thus, a d24 or d30 roll of a “1” (assuming this was a bad result) would earn a player character a “1” in the afore mentioned system. By the same logic, a d30 roll of a 30 (assuming this was a good result in the context of the moment) would earn a PC a “20” in their “20s and 1s” accounting. For d100 rolls, 01-05 is usually treated as a “1” in “20s and 1s” accounting, and 96-100 is usually treated as a “20” (assuming low rolls are bad on a d100). If a die’s maximum and minimum values are neither good nor bad – such as when a character rolls for a random magical effect – then rolling it won’t affect the “20s and 1s” accounting process.

Just to totally add some extra confusion here, any “20s and 1s” accounting involving actual Luck checks count for double the amount of 20s and 1s. Thus, if a DM were to ask a player to make a Luck check, and they rolled a natural 1, the DM would record two “1s” in their “20s and 1s” tally. Returning to our Arineon example…

Let’s say that in his next adventure, Arineon’s player rolls six natural 20s and zero natural 1s while making skill checks, saving throws, and the like. He also rolls a critical hit effect and on a d100 critical hit table the DM has, he rolls an “02” (a really poor result). In addition, Arineon tries to “pass” a character point to a comrade during the game session, and on his second-edition style Luck check (where he’s trying to roll his luck or under on d20), he rolls a natural 20. The DM’s “20s and 1s” accounting for Arineon would look like this: 20, 20, 20, 20, 20, 20, 1 (for the poor crit), 1, 1 (these last two 1’s are for the botched Luck check). Thus, if XP were awarded to Arineon with this record, he would gain +3d10 Luck stat points.

In actual game play, this process isn’t all that complicated…really. The process of “20s and 1s” accounting makes those intense moments of natural 20s and natural 1s even more significant. There is yet another purpose for keeping track of a PCs “20s and 1s”, and this relates to the primary function of the Luck stat: to potentially modify a character’s saving throws.

How Luck Modifies Saving Throws

(@#$& it, let’s dive right into the hyper-onion)

Players can apply their character’s Luck stat modifier to saving throws if they pass a DC 10 luck check. This DC increases +1 for every natural 1 in their “20s and 1s” tally, and decreases -1 for every natural 20 in this same tally (rolled since XP was last given). Additionally, the DC is at a +1 for every time the character tries (successfully or not) to apply their luck bonus to saving throws (since XP was last given). Typically, wherever a Cinematic System DM keeps track of “20s and 1s” they will also record “+1” entries when a PC tries to apply their Luck modifier to a saving throw (representing one attempt). Those unfortunate characters with negative Luck modifiers must make their modified DC 10 Luck checks every time they are faced with a saving throw, or suffer their Luck modifier as a penalty to the save. An example of all this might help…

Returning to our last example, let’s pretend that Arineon is forced to make a saving throw in the last few minutes of the game session where his “20s and 1s” are still: 20, 20, 20, 20, 20, 20, 1, 1, 1. If Arineon wanted to apply his Luck modifier to the save (we’ll assume it is positive here), he would need to make a DC 7 Luck check, because he has 3 more 20s than 1s (making the Luck check DC 10 – 3 = 7). Whatever the result of this check, immediately afterward the same check would have a DC of 8 (that is, 7 + 1 for trying to use Luck), and the DM would account for this by making Arineon’s “20s and 1s”: 20, 20, 20, 20, 20, 20, 1, 1, 1, (+1).

Of course, if Arineon’s Luck modifier were negative, his player might want to pick and choose when to try to eliminate the penalty by making the Luck check, since the DC goes up with each try. It should be noted that players do NOT have to declare beforehand whether they will make the modified DC 10 Luck check to modify a saving throw – they are allowed to roll the saving throw first and then decide.

There is yet another utility of the Luck stat, another way in which a character’s Luck can serve as a “pool of survivability”, and this relates to something called…

“Burning Your Luck”

(Pay attention, it might save someone’s life. It might also later kill them.)

Players can permanently spend or “burn” points of their character’s Luck stat for character points at a 1:1 ratio. This is treated as an automatic, instant metagame action. In order to do this, the player makes a “second-edition style” Luck check (which means they roll their luck or under on d20) at the actual value of their character’s Luck stat – if this is successful their luck goes down one and they get a character point which must be immediately spent after the process of burning Luck ends. If the situation is such that the character needs to burn more points of Luck (because more character points are needed), repeat the process, this time making the check at the new Luck value. Once a point of Luck is burned it does not come back: burning Luck is not taking ability damage or drain, but rather permanently lowering the Luck stat. Thus, spells such as restoration are of no help to recover burned Luck, and not even the Karmic Defender feat is of use! For example…let’s assume character X fails a life threatening saving throw by 3 and needs to burn Luck to survive, as they have no special points to save them. Character X’s luck is 12. The first Luck check succeeds, as does the second one, but the Last luck check (requiring a 10 or under on a d20) fails. The character misses the save by one, as burned Luck points have to be immediately spent (although the character could spend the points on some other event happening simultaneously, such as to heal hit points or to make the Luck check so as to continue on eating up Luck). Once a Luck check is missed, it is not possible to continue burning Luck (unless of course a feat says otherwise, as the Luck To Burn feat does). Note that the minimum Luck score a character can have is zero. At zero luck, the character is in trouble, as he/it takes a -5 penalty to all d20 rolls as a result of having no discernible fate left. A character who recovers from this would be the stuff of legends, and truly worthy of bonus special points from the DM.

“Oh right, we were making a character..”

So, with a set of 9 stats rolled and some knowledge of the effects of the new base stats (assuming you are actually following-along with the process of making a character), you can now place the numbers wherever you want. Remember the 4th die rule and its method for starting with stat points. Consider the degree to which you fudged your base stats, even a little. In the Cinematic System, there are plenty of opportunities to increase your base stats, so hopefully you won’t feel the need to “cheat” when rolling stats quite as much as you might have in the past (yes of course we know you never do that). In addition to the 9 base stats, this system includes a secondary series of stats called “Sub-Stats” (capitalized for no reason)…


(or, game mechanical reasons to develop your character’s persona)

The concept of sub-stats evolved out of our gaming group’s practice of requiring each starting player character to have, at minimum, 5 personality characteristics before entering the in-game action. These were used to gage the appropriateness of that character’s player’s performance as well as to give the player some guidelines as to how to go about role-playing. Each time a player character leveled-up, their player would be forced asked to add at least one more characteristic, preferably based on the actions of the character in-game and the rambling/rolling direction of their player’s performance. Looking back across two old character sheets I grab at random…I find the following listed characteristics:

Lochlin Saberhagen: “Daring, Impatient, Rude, Active, Sexy.”

Nalistral Shriss: “Independent, Lustful, Loyal, Brave, Fierce, Passionate, Calculating, Greedy, Charming, Playful, “hates faeries”, No-disgust response to gore, Witty, Impulsive..”

I’m not sure why there is kind of a sexual theme going on in these examples – let’s just forget that. The point I’m making is that based on these lists of descriptors, you get some sense of how these characters might act in a story. Lochlin was indeed the kind of character a Jesus-Lion wouldn’t want to see walking out of a wardrobe (in ten minutes he would be wearing its pelt, sexily I might add). Sub-stats are like the lists of descriptors above: no two sets of sub-stats should be the same, they describe the personality of their owner, they increase and change over time, and they tell a potential story. Like the 9 base stats, sub-stats have numeric values. This is an advantage, since it helps to know, for example, exactly how “Rude” Lochlin is supposed to be. Furthermore, the addition of a quantitative value of “rudeness” (for example) allows us to devise game mechanical consequences for Lochlin’s behavior: perhaps the greater his rudeness value, the more of a bonus he gets to intimidation skill checks? You see where this is going…and you like it [waves hand].

Sub-stats come in two flavors: beneficial and non-beneficial. At its generation, a Cinematic System player character will have an equal amount of beneficial and non-beneficial sub-stats. At minimum, it will have [its level] + 4 of each; at maximum, a starting character can have up to its Charisma modifier in additional beneficial and non-beneficial sub-stats. Thus, a starting level 6 character with a Charisma modifier of +3 will have between 10 and 13 beneficial sub stats, as well as 11-14 non-beneficial sub-stats. It is up to the player to decide how many sub-stats they want to develop for their character within the ranges set forth here.

Once you know how many sub-stats you want, you need to determine what values they will have. One set of sub-stat values are rolled and applied to both the beneficial and non-beneficial sub-stats. This keeps a kind of balance to a character’s positive and negative characteristics. The lowest a starting sub-stat can be is 13 (the logic for this becomes obvious when you consider the application of stat points later on). The values of the sub-stats are rolled using the following method: for X sub stats, roll 2d20 X times. Each roll, select one of the dice – you must select a value over 13 if one exists. If none of the dice roll over 13, the result is 13. This generates X numbers that are placed in the sub-stats as the player sees fit (place these all in the beneficial sub stats, and then all in the non-beneficial sub-stats – or vice versa). With DM permission, you can roll your sub-stats again, and it is fun to roll them as a group (using the H.U.S.U. method outlined earlier).

The next part is the fun part: choosing the actual beneficial and non-beneficial sub-stats. We have provided a list of 200 Sub-Stats of each flavor located here: CINEMATIC SUB-STATS; you could simply roll your sub-stats randomly on this list, or choose the ones you want to flesh-out your character. Notice that our list includes a game mechanical consequence with each sub-stat – this is an essential part of their function. We highly encourage you to develop your own sub-stats: we find the process of working as a group to determine their effects on the game (their “game mechanical consequences”) to be quite interesting. It can be an art to craft a set of beneficial and non-beneficial sub-stats that aren’t overpowered and work as a holistic unit. It is up to the DM to determine whether or not a character’s non-beneficial sub-stats balance out their beneficial sub-stats. It is quite possible to “max-max” (to quote Ryan Jones, “..there’s no min here!”) certain combinations of sub-stats to end up with just a few penalties and a lot of benefits. The easiest way to do this is to place your lowest sub-stat rolls (typically the 13s) in your most non-beneficial sub-stats, while placing the highest rolls in the most beneficial sub-stats. We have experimented with rolling sub-stat values in order to prevent these tendencies, but this restricts character development.

Each time a Cinematic System player character gains experience points, they gain some amount of stat points, as well as an identical number of sub-stat points useful for modifying their various sub-stats (recall that stat points can also modify sub-stats, but sub-stat points never modify base stats). In this way, non-beneficial characteristics can be eroded away and beneficial traits heightened, reflecting character development. Sub-stat points should be spent in a manner which reflects how a given character is role-played, and Cinematic DMs should somehow reward this practice (why not with minor special point awards).

Each time a PC levels, they may, if their player desires and the DM/GM agrees, add one new beneficial and non-beneficial sub-stat. The DM can set the value of these sub-stats, or the player can roll them using the 2d20 method described earlier – but the value of each will be identical. Alternatively, (and only with DM permission) a player can elect to add an additional “game mechanical consequence” to an existing beneficial and non-beneficial sub-stat upon leveling-up their character. Note that there are Cinematic feats which modify the process of sub-stating: the Sub-Statistical Variance feat and the Supa-Substatification feat.

Again, please click here for more information: CINEMATIC SUB-STATS

Back to the Cinematic System Chapter List