Innovations: Drama Points and Fixed NPC “Rolls”

Drama Points

Cinematic Unisystem was not the first system to use dramatic editing. The first system that I saw with this idea was Adventure!, which came out a year before, and it might have been included in other systems even earlier. Nonetheless, the Buffy RPG was likely one of the first to come up with something that has become a staple in a lot of games, even getting included as Action Points in d20.

Unlike Adventure!, in Cinematic Unisystem, Drama Points are explicitly an out-of-character mechanic. Rather than being a resource available to characters specifically because they are larger than life (and used also to fuel their powers), Buffy turned this idea on its head by primarily giving them to lower powered characters. In another system included for genre emulation, Drama Points were there to mimic how non-powered friends could manage to hang out with the Slayer without it being a terrible risk. Spending them functionally represented the story writers on the show giving the weaker characters more lucky breaks.

This conception has become the de facto standard for all later games that allow a point-based player impact on the flow of the game independent of innate character abilities. As mentioned, Action Points in D&D work similarly, and Fate points in FATE are directly inspired by this notion (up to and including giving characters with fewer powers more Fate points in the Dresden Files RPG). Effectively, giving players a systematized and resource-based control over the story that is actually outside the scope of their characters can be used as a balance mechanism to ensure even players of mechanically weaker characters have fun.

In its original conception, Cinematic Unisystem even nailed most of the uses for dramatic editing that are still used in the most modern systems: Minor causality declarations, increased potency at a certain action, increased resistance to a certain attack, and managing to survive when it looks like the character would die.

Fixed NPC “Rolls”

In Cinematic Unisystem, GMs are encouraged not to roll for NPCs in most cases. Most creatures are statted with three scores that are functionally an average combat roll, and used as such. In contested rolls, you try to beat the NPC’s score with your result. In combat, the NPC automatically does a set amount of damage each turn (possibly varying based on tactical choices) unless you roll against its score to dodge.

The upshot is that this probably greatly reduces the swinginess of contests in the system, for much the same reason as I like to simply set the defender in d20 games to 10 or 11 + score instead of d20 + score. In practice, this may reduce some of the tier benefits I mentioned in my first post (as these were basically predicated on the idea of the higher-ranked character rolling a 1 while the lower-ranked character rolls a 10).

Like Drama Points, “only the players roll dice” has become popular in certain games since Cinematic Unisystem was developed, and it was the first system I’m aware of that made a big deal about this. It’s an interesting concept that can increase player agency, reduce GM work, and reduce swinginess in flat-roll systems. Though I’m not sure if it completely works in Unisystem (consistent damage output being a bit weird).