Cinematic Indulgences: A Treasure Trove of Tropes

Prepare to lose large chunks of your life: TV Tropes is that addicting. With thousands of pages, covering fiction tropes from “Actually, I am Him” to “You Can’t Go Home Again“, TV Tropes is a boot camp for the Genre Savvy (and required reading for the would-be Dangerously Genre Savvy).

Each page in the wiki defines and describes a specific trope, like the infamous (and hoary) Deus Ex Machina. And there’s thousands of pages, covering thousands of tropes.

What’s a “butt monkey”? Now you know. Don’t know what “Dark Fantasy” is? TV Tropes can help. What tropes are frequently used in “Star Trek”? It’s in there.

The best articles delve into historical background, critical analysis, and prominent examples (thus leaving you more educated about genre and genre tropes), while the worst are a stew of in-wiki cross-references: “This trope is like that one, but not like these two others, and often appears in conjunction with a fourth trope.” (These latter pages are obscure, maddening, and wholly unenlightening.)

So why is this a colossal time sink? Because there’s just so damn much material, thoroughly cross-referenced, written in an accessible, conversational tone of voice, and illustrated with concrete examples from all kinds of media (not just television). Maybe normal people wouldn’t find themselves opening 6 additional browser tabs, after reading just one article, but genre geeks should find it hard.

Such an encyclopedic compendium of tropes is an open bar for people looking to educate themselves on matters of genre. There’s just so much good stuff…

Whether building a setting, trying to understand the thematic elements of King Lear, or casually browsing for edification and entertainment, TV Tropes has you covered. If you can spare the time.

Banning the Bland in an Omni-Genre RPG

Destiny is an omni-genre game, it’s intended to support play in many different and varying genres. Fantasy, cyberpunk, space opera: any potential RPG genre can be represented by Destiny’s mechanics. (Not every setting, but any genre.)

The problem with this, from the point of view of a designer, is how to keep a genre-less rule set from feeling bland or uninspiring. Many, perhaps most “multi-genre” RPG’s fall into this trap.

In part this problem is averted by Destiny’s raison d’tre: it’s an Action-Movie RPG. Destiny is about Bad Boys, The Expendables, Die Hard. It’s about Jet Li, Sylvester Stallone, Will Smith. It’s about heroes and villains. Chases, interrogations, and gunfights. Most importantly, it’s about Trouble and Luck: action heroes suffer through much trouble but are also very lucky.

Trouble and Luck also provide a framework for play. Players are told to expect Trouble (and are given some sway over Luck), gamemasters are counseled to use Trouble to Fuel the Action, and the most prominent mechanics themselves are built around the ideas of Trouble and Luck.

The dice roll Hot and Cold. Traits provide Difficulties and Distinctions. Cards are both Boon and Bane. Spectacular Success is Lucky, Disasters Trouble.

These elements make the game distinctive, they make it stand out, they make it memorable. They implement action movie tropes and make Destiny an action movie RPG. They give the game a sharp focus, and in so doing make it more than a bland, unfocused rules set.

They make Destiny into the game of Omni-Genre Action Movie Heroics. Which is flexible, by design, but never bland.

Skill Challenges: How Difficult is “Difficult”?

Skill Challenges are compared to a Challenge Rating, which roughly measures how difficult they are.

CR Description
0 Routine
5 Easy
8 Moderate
10 Difficult
15 Formidable
20 Grueling
25 Monumental
30 Nearly Impossible

Routine: A task so easy, you barely notice performing it. Even rank amateurs and raw recruits usually succeed at Routine tasks. Ex.:

Easy: A relatively simple task, something amateurs find too complex, and entry-level workers find challenging, but competent professionals almost always succeed at. Ex.: Taking off or landing an airplane in clear weather. Diagnosing a common disease. Swimming a mile.

Moderate: This sort of task is the bread-and-butter of veterans (who succeed most of the time), but the untried and inexperienced find them daunting. Ex.: A reporter writing a newspaper column or story.

Difficult: Veterans usually succeed at these sorts of tasks, and standout members of a profession nearly always succeed, but entry level employees usually fail. Ex.:

Formidable: Something seasoned characters struggle to achieve, but luminaries usually succeed at. Ex.:

Grueling: A task one of the best in the world fail at, more often than not. Ex.:

Monumental: Tasks the foremost expert in a field fails at most times. Ex.:

Nearly Impossible: Even a DaVinci or Napoleon finds these tasks difficult, failing more than half the time. Ex.:

[Note: Obviously, examples are missing for most of the CR ratings. As skill descriptions are written up, these examples will be fleshed out.]

FAQ Force Five (Destiny Rules FAQ, Part 5)

Initiative

Q. Why not just go first and Hold Action every round?

A. The Initiative language is being revised for 0.2a. It should address this.

Movement and Actions

Q. I don’t understand how movement works.

A. Movement rules are being revised for 0.2a.

The Rules

Q. Where can I get a copy of these rules?

A. For those involved in the playtest, the 0.1a version of the rules is available in the Yahoo Group, in the Files section. For everyone else, the rules are listed in the various posts tagged Destiny Game Mechanics.

When release 0.2a is finished, I’ll make it available as a general download and post links to it.

Feedback

Q. Are you actually paying attention to feedback?

A. Yes, very much so. Even when I decided to keep (or decline to alter) a criticized mechanic, I’m still tracking how it works. It the criticism appears valid, I am open to changing it. Indeed, such changes could appear without warning.

Cinematic Indulgences 2: Physics and the Cinema

Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics is a formerly great, but still pretty decent, site specializing in review and discussion of the many physics mistakes common to films. Did you know that bullets which ricochet don’t sparkle (unlike vampires)? Well, now you do.

Not only do they discuss common physics oversights/crimes against science in general, they also review and rate specific films for their accuracy in physics. (The worst offender? Unsurprisingly, it’s The Core, 2003’s so-bad-it’s-good inverse Armageddon.) The reviews were, at one point in time, the best part of visiting the site.

Unfortunately, the authors made the grave error of publishing a book compiling their posts, then removing the posts from the site. As a result, Movie Physics is a bastardized remnant of its former glory, with most of the best material missing in action.

I’m not one to begrudge anyone who manages to make money off of their own personal pursuits, posting opinions and diatribes to the Internet. But Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics did it foolishly, harming their audience and their site.

They’d have been better off to leave the reviews on the site, as they’re free advertising. People who like them will buy the book, and (if they’re any good) the authors will make money. Schlock Mercenary and The Order of the Stick both thrive off this model, and the creators (Howard Taylor and Jeff Burlew, respectively) are quite successful. (They make a living posting stuff for free!)

Still, the general discussion of specific areas movie physics differ from real-world physics are illuminating, and the current crop of reviews are good reads, if not as good as the reviews of yore. After all, how often does a big budget anti-physics masterpiece like The Core come along?

Destiny Rules FAQ IV: I Do (or Don’t) Declare!

Declarations

Q. It seems like everybody can qualify for this bonus, so why not get rid of it? Or make it mandatory?

A. Declarations exist for a specific reason, one tied into the core philosophy of the game. I think that RPG’s come alive when the player’s and GM buy into the world, when they become immersed in the fictional reality that playing the game represents. Fostering immersion is one of the goals of the game.

Fact is, good rules can’t do much to foster immersion, while bad rules can easily disrupt it. Fostering immersion requires that the rules are, to the maximum extent possible, transparent and unobtrusive. Simple and easily used rules get out of the way of the action.

Immersion happens when players and GM’s forget about the mechanics and focus on the characters and situations happening in the game, right now. (There are varying degrees of this, obviously.) GM’s aid this by vividly describing the world around the characters, players by getting into the skin of their characters and describing what they do based not on external concerns, but on who the character is.

The Declaration mechanic is, in effect, a bribe to encourage this kind of thinking. It rewards players for describing things in-character, describing what their character thinks, says, or does in personal terms, not game mechanical terms. It makes the players allies of the GM.

I want this to happen, which is why it’s easy to achieve. Making it hard to gain the +1 bonus would undermine the entire reason the mechanic exists.

Declarations aren’t mandatory, because requiring them would break immersion. Players who don’t like describing character actions this way would chafe at the requirement, and players angry at mechanics are not invested in the game.

None of the above means that Declarations are a perfect mechanic. I have reasons for implementing them; that doesn’t mean I’m right to do so. If it seems that Declarations are burdensome rather than colorful, I’m more than amenable to removing them.

Looking over the playtest transcript, however, I think they worked well. At the very least, they illustrated what players thought was happening in the fight, what they thought their character was doing. This makes it easy for the GM to notice and correct misimpressions, making it easier for everyone to be on the same page (as regards what’s going on).

That one benefit probably makes the mechanic worthwhile. Fostering in-character description and thinking (to the extent that happens) would be gravy.

[Note: One last FAQ to go.]

Cinematic Indulgences: Under the Dark Hand of Jabootu

Jabootu’s Bad Movie Dimension is, hands down, the best site for enjoying the worst in cinema. Its motto is “Devoted To Savoring Films at the Very Bottom of the Cinematic Bell Curve”. Truly, the site plumbs the black depths of cinematic awfulness.

Jabootu (whom the site is named after) is the anti-muse, a god of bad art who graces only the worst of artistic endeavors, prompting creatives to produce works that that are so stunningly terrible that they transcend mere badness and achieve a shining level of glorious, scintillating awfulness that is seldom matched by the merely mediocre. The site celebrates the many movies that were blessed by the hand of Jabootu Himself.

Bad Movie Dimension is chock full of reviews of films so bad, you’ve likely never heard of them. (Though some you probably have, like Gigli.) The reviews — the best written by site founder Ken Begg — are lengthy pieces that thoroughly skewer their target in an entertaining and satirical fashion.

Along the way Begg includes background and history, to help you place the films in context. Several recent reviews educated me on the career of Roger Corman (“The King of the B-Movies.“), the history of Italian zombie movies, and the cinematic excesses of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton (one of the worst power couples to hit Hollywood, ever).

The site is fun, well-written, and despite its (justifiable) practice of rejoicing in the evisceration of truly terrible movies, it shows a genuine respect for the craft of movie making, a true love of movies, and even a back-handed affection for its subject manner. Begg’s reviews are cutting, but never cynical, cheap, or contemptuous. (And they’re thoroughly entertaining to boot.)

When dealing with movies that beg to be mocked (and, indeed, deserve every bit of mockery the B-Masters hand out), affectionate yet honest criticism is especially welcome. It elevates what would otherwise be a crude collection of personal insults into even-handed criticism that’s both educational and interesting.

The one bad point of the site is that it tends to make one paranoid about the quality of one’s own endeavors. After reading a review of Boom! (perfectly named, according to a quoted critic, as it’s the sound of a bomb exploding) detailing how deeply awful a film written by Tennessee Williams and featuring Noel Coward can be, we all have to ask ourselves if we’re unwittingly falling under the sway of Jabootu.

After all, if superstars of the screen can fall under his dark hand, surely anyone can. Jabootu’s Bad Movie Dimension is proof of that.