Wednesday, January 30, 2013


With Before Iron, I've been left to dole out information on a completed (minus layout/art) project after the fact. It's been difficult to settle on precisely how much information to give out and when, since I've no real idea when it's going to go out. I don't want to say a whole bunch of stuff when release might be another year away, finding that I have nothing to say when I actually need to promote a real, existing, solid book that's in my hands.

With ACTION MOVIE WORLD: FIRST BLOOD,  I get to do something a little different, which is talk about things I think are worth talking about as they get formed enough to do so. I'm not inclined to design in the open, but I do like to get people excited. Or bummed out! Whichever. I can feed off of that a bit and it can help solidify certain ideas which haven't quite gelled.

So, notes. Before I get to those, work's been going well. I tend to binge write, leaving things fallow for two or three days before going on a mad, all day spree. This is no different. Since I hit my homework in the same fashion, AMW:FB has meshed pretty well with my current schedule, which is good. I feel good about a preliminary playtest document maybe in March, though I don't want to overpromise. Anyway:


The stats are set at +Muscles, +Agility, +Drama, +Sexiness, +Swagger. The names are subject to change; they're all nouns but I sort of want them to adjectives. And Drama doesn't quite fit the way I want it to, in that the others are things that a person has, while Drama is read differently.

I reached these stats by breaking down what action movie stars do in movies. Stunts and violence, yes, but pathos-filled speeches about personal loss, love scenes ranging from touching to down and dirty, and non sequitur wisecracks left hanging for effect. Plus, not all stunts are performed the same way or for the same reasons; a muscley guy holding a portcullis open in a barbarian movie isn't doing the same thing as a person doing a backflip out of a helicopter.

So Muscles (I'm dropping the plus sign, since it tries to tag people in G+) is for stunts involving strength and close combat. Agility is for stunts involving dexterity and ranged combat. Pretty bog standard stuff but I'm happy with that split.

The other three tie into the meta aspect of the game a bit more. Even though you're never, ever supposed to directly acknowledge it, the conceit is that we're all in the know that this is just actors doing a movie. So it's not just that the actor seduces that guy, it's that the seduction is, ideally, interesting to this imaginary audience. Again, I don't want this to be directly acknowledged, but it affects the way the fiction works as you roll for your outcomes. A better example may be the wisecracks which come with the territory; they make no sense whatsoever in a "real world" situation, but make perfect sense if you imagine that everything you're doing is a scene on a screen, even if the narrative fluctuates due to your actions.

So, Drama is about how good you are at conveying real emotion and making connections with people which go beyond the deliberately superficial relationships in action movies. Sexiness functions an awful lot like Hot and is probably the closest to the AW stats of the five. Swagger is the unflappable sense of cool and humor which folks like Kurt Russell and Han Solo/Indiana Jones era Harrison Ford have.


Playbooks are mostly designed in a first pass sort of way. The mechanics, I'm certain, will change, but I'm pretty content with the action movie actors being represented.

Each has a primary stat and five moves. At least one move is always of the active, roll Stat and make choices type. The playbooks are:

The Musclehead (Muscles): Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lou Ferrigno type. Lots of raw power and menace in the moves. Right now bears a (totally accidental) heavy resemblance to the Gunlugger and I'm not entirely happy about that.

The Yeller (Muscles): Reb Brown. Reb's a little obscure and never actually did any "good" movies, but it's my game and, by damn, he's going in. He substitutes yelling for dramatic chops. Or he's a bard, if you prefer. A bard who yells.

The Gunfighter (Agility): Chow Yun-Fat. The John Woo, gun-fu type. I've had to expand the moves to include all ranged weapons, simply because it would be really lame to play a gun wizard in a barbarian movie. Moves center on making ranged combat look completely badass and creating dramatic scenes which revolve around the Gunfighter's weapons.

The Pugilist (Agility): JCVD, Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, Cynthia Rothrock. This is the actor who got a start in martial arts or boxing and parlayed it into a career. Moves center on hand to hand combat, with one training montage move. Because of course there has to be a training montage.

The Thespian (Drama): Mel Gibson, Sylvester Stallone. It's really easy to forget just how good the first Rocky movie is. Sly showed some real acting chops, even if his range isn't stellar. This Playbook is that sort of action movie star, one who can drop real moments of drama in things. This may end up being my favorite because, in the course of doing the actual design, I found that I was making Drama for the Thespian function as a real narrative changer. Picture the guy in the movie (any movie) giving a soliloquy about what's going on in the plot or the conflicts driving things. Now, let's pretend that it's a chicken and egg argument, that it's insight of what's already happening but that the observations actually make things happen. A kind of reality bending through dramatic training. That's what the Thespian can bring to the table.

The Wiseass (Swagger): Kurt Russell. This one and the Operator (I need to change that name, since there's an Operator in AW) are my current work and, frankly, the toughest of the seven to get where I want. Unlike the others, the niche is mostly "stuff other playbooks do but BETTER", which is a tougher thing to make interesting than "stuff nobody else does".

The Operator (Sexiness): Sean Connery, Daniel Craig. The sexy Bond type. I feel better about this one than the Wiseass. I settled on some moves to grant some narrative control through romantic interests and making things "sexy".

The Other Stuff

I'll leave things like basic moves, the Camaraderie stat, and Scripts (movie playbooks) for another time. Short version: basic moves are good, though with a surprising amount of overlap with AW's and I'm not happy about that, Camaraderie is sketched out as a communally used stat which goes up and down through group action, and Scripts haven't been cracked yet (plus will probably be the most labor intensive part of the game).

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