Cinematic Sands

This is something that's been rattling around in my head for a few months, but I haven't had time to develop it properly.

Project Needs

  • Game Designers to figure out appropriate success ratios and time limits.
  • System Consultants on a variety of roleplaying games.
  • A brainstorm of time-sensitive action scenarios for multiple genres.

Project Participants: Propagandroid, ???,


Cinematic Sands is an action-packed task resolution system that can be used with any roleplaying system. It uses a sand timer and dice to simulate the breathless excitement of a last-minute escape, the sweaty tension of defusing a bomb or disarming a lethal trap, and any other time-sensitive issue that deserves a better game mechanic than "roll your skill and tell me the result."

Here is a very bare-bones description of how the system will work. As we brainstorm and develop our mechanics, this description will be fleshed out and written as an actual rules document.

Whenever a time sensitive action such as disarming a trap that has a countdown mechanism (a nuclear bomb, for instance) or tumbling through a closing stone door takes place, instead of having a character roll a skill check or burn action dice the DM tips over a sand timer and calls out a number of successes needed to defeat the challenge. The player grabs his Cinematic Sands dice and starts rolling furiously, cataloging successes as fast as he can before scooping up the dice for another roll. The race is on!

A character will have two (?) pools of dice: physical and mental. The type and number of dice will be determined by his class and level (different things for different games, of course), so a 7th-level Fighter might use five d6s for physical and three d10s for mental. A success is rolling the top number on the dice used. Class Features/Feats/Advantages/Powers might give characters automatic successes on certain types of actions, so a wuxia fighter might have automatic successes when trying to jump his way across a crumbling floor.

Example Using D&D

Carolina James has just stolen an idol from an underground jungle temple filled with traps, but the last trap is perhaps the most deadly. A pressure plate has triggered a boulder that threatens to crush him if it catches him or seal him underground forever if he dodges it.

Without Cinematic Sands
DM: What's your speed? Ok, let's see how far you are from the cave exit…you can get to here on your first round unless you do a full run, which gets you here but I'll need you to make a Balance or Tumble check to avoid tripping over vines or loose rocks. The boulder moves this far each round, so…hmm…

Player: … *yawn*

With Cinematic Sands

DM: You need four physical successes, go! *tips over 30-second sand timer*

Player: *As a 4th-level rogue, he picks up three d6s and starts rolling and rolling.* Darnit, only three successes! Guess I'm crus…wait, I've got the Run feat which gives me an automatic success at speed challenges!

DM: You roll out of the cave's entrance with nary a second to spare, and find yourself confronted by a dozen natives with wicked-looking spears.


Obviously, it needs a lot, but I hope I've gotten the idea across. Here's where I think we should start (but feel free to add new needs as they come to you):

Brainstorm of Uses for Cinematic Sands Challenges
I've listed a few above, feel free to copy them down here and add your own. :)
Example: the character is attempting to defuse a bomb on a countdown timer, conveniently set to 30 seconds!

Timer and Dice
Should we dictate a 30-second timer? I think that works best for single-character actions, although we'll need to do some testing. I can envision multi-character challenges that need like 30 successes using a 60-second timer, which can be the 30-second timer flipped twice.

We need to run the math on various dice and the likelihood of rolling X successes in a given time period. This will help us set the number and type of dice for character types, as well as figure out the number of successes to assign challenges based on their level of difficulty.

Considerations & Random Thoughts

How will fumbles and the like be handled during this period of furious rolling? Would one fumble automatically result in a failure, regardless of the amount of time elapsed, or would there be a certain number of fumbles needed before the PC clips the blue wire instead of the red one? I'd lean toward the former option.
Reply: I'm not sure there are fumbles during the rolling period…only successes. It would be difficult to count both fumbles and successes. Catastrophic failures could be determined by the number of successes a character misses by…say he gets 0 successes, that equals a catastrophe rather than just a failure. Thoughts? —Prop

Action Points
How about systems with action points, or other means by which results can be augmented or re-rolled? I'd think an immediate expenditure of an action point would cancel a fumble (one for one), and that maybe a pre-emptive use of one would equal an automatic success, or maybe two.
Reply: Good ideas. It would depend on what system you were talking about as to how powerful they would be. Action Points in WotC d20 games like Modern suck royally, and so would only give one auto success. Action points or story points that were very powerful would probably just allow you to automatically succeed at the task, bypassing the rolling. Thoughts? —Prop

(Maybe we should take the discussion to the forums? Could someone port these over to a forum thread?

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