USR Wednesdays: Health Variants

Hit points may be the most significant “mechanic” that roleplaying games introduced to the world of games. Before Dungeons & Dragons, game characters were either “up” or “down” (think of Pac-Man’s lives or even the one-hit armies of chess). And while there’s no exact agreement on precisely what hit points represent — Physical health? Willingness to keep fighting? Raw toughness? — there’s many ways to represent them.

Domino Writing-style USR calls for a lot of hit points: your character’s maximum Action stat plus maximum Wits stat (both physical and mental fortitude). Standard USR replaces maximums with a die roll from both stats, but the idea is the same. Here’s a few ideas to change the way health is used in your game. Note that most of these variants are best in a game with lots of combat, where the health amount will change repeatedly.

The original medusa.
The stunned condition at work.

Conditions


This comes directly from the most recent editions of Dungeons & Dragons: other effects besides straight hit point loss; things like being stunned, poisoned, or even charmed. They lend themselves very well to simple effects in combat, or occasionally negative Specialisms. Here’s some of the most common:

Confused: Before the character starts his or her turn, roll a d6:

1-2 — the character can act normally

3-4 — the character loses his or her turn, babbling incoherently

5-6 — the character causes 1d6 damage to him or herself from shock, accidentally bumping into something, or for some other reason

Fascinated: The character stays in place, and takes no actions this turn. Any obvious threats to the character immediately end the fascination. This includes a magical charm like hypnosis or even seduction.

Frightened: More severe than shaken, the character suffers a -2 penalty on all appropriate die rolls until he or she gets away from what was frightening.

Poisoned: The character suffers a -1 penalty to all appropriate rolls until the poison is eliminated (by waiting it out or by taking an antidote). This can also represent disease.

Shaken: Less severe than frightened, the character suffers a -1 penalty on his or her next appropriate die roll.

Stunned: The character skips his or her next turn in combat. This can be extended to more than one turn to represent things like being tangled in vines or even frozen in ice.

Decreasing Dice

One of the “unrealistic” things about hit points, especially in older games, is how they don’t have an effect until the end. A hero with 50 hit points can fight just as well as one with 3 hit points — but they both keel over at 0 HP. A simple way to debilitate characters (and monsters) a little bit is by decreasing dice: Each time a character loses 10 hit points from the character’s maximum, they also decrease stat dice by one rank, from D12 to D10 to D8 to D6 to D4. This decrease goes away by one rank as the character heals.

For example, a hero with 22 hit points and an Action stat of D10 who falls to 12 hit points now has an Action stat of D8. At 2 hit points, his Action stat is D6. If he goes back to 3 hit points, it returns to a D8, and at 13 or more hit points, he’s back to his original D10 Action stat.

Usually this effect only applies to a single stat (say, Action if the character is attacked by a life-draining ghoul, or Ego if a character’s honor and status in society is completely obliterated).

This variant can also be used to represent serious injury. The D20 versions of the Star Wars Roleplaying game and the Palladium system games like “Rifts” use something like this, where serious damage has long-lasting effects. Hit points can be healed fully (or at least up to half the character’s original hit points) after every combat encounter, but serious wounds — as judged by the game master — result in a lower die for a stat, and stick around until an appropriate time in the story.

Flashback

This comes from the Savage Worlds RPG: A character can heal back to full health at any time — as long as they narrate their recovery. It can be a scene where the character is sitting and talking about his or her past, and how it led to today. It can fill in the gaps in the narrative, explaining how something happened that the players haven’t yet heard about (think of a heist movie, where you get filled in on how part of the caper was pulled off after the action is over). The goal is to add more to the story and the world of the characters. The reward for the player is to heal back to full hit points.

USR Wednesdays: A Package Of Specialisms

It only takes moments to create a Domino Writing-style (or really any) USR character, but the one part of character development that does require a little bit of time is coming up with Specialisms. They’ve been discussed before; remember:

Specialisms are what a character can do, or how he or she does it, in a way that’s appropriate to the setting.

This includes:

  • Skills (Climbing, Computers, etc.)
  • Natural abilities (Charming, Tough, etc.)
  • Supernatural abilities (Magic, Psionics, etc.)

But it also includes:

  • Races (Animal-Folk, Elf, etc.)
  • Traditional RPG classes (Gunslinger, Wizard, etc.)
  • Personality traits (Lone Wolf, More Interested In Machines Than People, etc.)
  • Setting-specific characteristics (Disgraced Member Of The Royal Family, Knight Of Eagle’s Watch, etc.)
  • Signature equipment (All-In-One Pocket Tool, Fast Car, etc.)
I'm a little of everything.
So many Specialism ideas…

The one thing a Specialism usually isn’t is a combat-specific ability: guns, swords, shields, and the rest is represented as weapons and armor and “purchased” with Combat Gear points. That said, there’s nothing wrong with a Specialism like Sharpshooter or A Dagger In Each Hand, to add to attacks, or other actions (a Sharpshooter is just as good at putting out a flickering candle from across a room as he is at taking out a bandit gang).

How can you get a character ready to play instantly? Try a Specialism package: One personality trait and two skills (or one skill and one class, if you’re playing in a setting with archetypes the players and game master all understand). That gives you some abilities to use in the adventure, and a little bit of background to make your character more than just a set of combat statistics.

Here’s a few more kinds of Specialisms that can be used to put that package together, borrowed from the great RPG Risus:

  • Adventuring necessities (Athletics, Persuasion, Observation, Driving, Technology, Medicine, Wilderness, Knowledge, Spying)
  • Degree of dedication (Master Of Martial Arts, Laser-Focused On Fire Magic, etc.)
  • Social and financial status (Billionaire, On The Streets, etc.)
  • Appearance (Dashingly Handsome, Scheming, etc.) — you can use celebrities or stock characters to help with Specialisms, too (Albert Einstein, Casanova, etc.)
  • Relationships (Father Figure, Falls In Love With All The Women, etc.)

USR Wednesdays: Robot Revolution

If the robots rise up against the humans, there will be war, at least with the survivors, the humans that aren’t wiped out by being at the wrong place at the wrong time, or the humans that can’t make it without electronics. Thanks to the ingenuity of people, there are robots of every size and shape available in the robot army, and it’s easy enough for them to start producing still more robots, including kinds that don’t exist in the real world yet.

John Connor or Spike Witwicky? No contest.
It’s this plus humans.

So that’s where we start:

Monster Power Level and examples

I: Tiny, mostly harmless service robots like vacuum cleaners or checkout machines

II: Human-size robots that aren’t built for combat — a manufacturing arm or a translator

III: The classic security robot that moves and acts like an ordinary human with a gun

IV: An advanced security robot, bigger, tougher, and more maneuverable — maybe with wheels, treads or spider-type legs

V: A robot transport, which provides cover fire before it drops off a load of killer robots

VI: A self-driving vehicle — one bristling with weapons, like a tank or fighter jet

Characters in this setting are action-oriented; they have their highest stats in Action (if they’re the gun-toting soldier kind) or Wits (if they’re the genius programmer that turns the robots against themselves kind). Ego is less important in this genre, though a typical adventure probably has at least one opportunity for a hero to pretend he’s a robot to get through a dangerous situation, or to talk another group of survivors into joining forces.

Specialisms

Think of Specialisms that offer skills: Robot Programming, Discipline, Driving, Stealth. And make sure your character isn’t a generic hard-bitten warrior with personality traits like Practical Joker, Silent And Deadly, or Master Negotiator.

USR Wednesdays: Companions

I took a look back at the community on the USR Google+ page, before it disappears, though of course nothing ever really disappears from the web. A few years back, there was a discussion on playing puppets, creatures that work with a hero as a kind of support staff. Puppets and their controller — in other words, companions of a hero. In classic fantasy role playing games, this is the druid or ranger with their wolf, hawk, or other animal partner. Helper robots in a science fiction settings are a pretty popular concept too.

What’s a companion?

A companion, in the terms we’re using here, is more than a simple Specialism. A private eye who has a trusty bartender informant doesn’t have a companion; he has a Bartender Contact +2 Specialism. All the bartender does is pass along information (and pour drinks). He doesn’t join the detective in a fight, and really doesn’t even leave the bar, in the story.

On the other hand, a dark elf two-blade ranger’s magical black panther is a companion (probably a Magical Black Panther +2); it’s useful as a warrior, but also a scout, a guard, and likely some other stuff, I haven’t read all the books. He literally never leaves his hero.

I would choose any of these.
Animal companions, classic fantasy style.

So, if both the bartender and the panther are designated as Specialisms, what’s the difference in game terms between a companion and a non-companion? On the surface, not much. Both offer a +2 bonus… but the panther’s bonus applies a lot more often. It all depends on how the player and the game master have decided how the companion works. That’s part of what defining a Specialism in the first place is all about — what kind of die rolls it applies to.

Other companion-type Specialisms
The puppets we talked about on Google+ are another companion-type specialism. The example I used was this:

(A) puppet could be a manifestation of a Specialism (Flight +2 is on your character sheet, but you can’t literally fly. One of your puppets can, though, and whenever you need to fly you summon the puppet to carry you).

That’s just “flavor text,” as they say in CCGs. This character can fly, it’s just being described as something the puppet does for the hero. It does open the game to more role playing opportunities — what if the puppet is missing or stolen? Is the hero’s need to fly somehow powerful enough that the puppet comes racing across continents to do its job? Or is the character just a little less capable now that his puppet is out of action?

Then there’s the situation where the companion is more powerful than the hero. There are a few superheroes who have this trait — young Billy Batson becomes the mighty Captain Marvel (or Shazam now, I guess), and timid scientist Bruce Banner transforms into the Hulk. Though in USR terms, Shazam and Hulk are the heroes, and Batson and Banner are the Specialisms (maybe Young Boy +1, capable of being ignored by most people, and Genius Scientist +2). But the example I was really thinking of is Aladdin, who has an extremely powerful wish-granting Genie, who is a companion, especially in the well-known Disney version of the fairy tale. The genie isn’t a character himself, because he can’t do anything until Aladdin makes a wish.

Companion ideas

Like all Specialisms, companions, in whatever form they take, follow our guideline for creating Specialisms: They explain what a character can do, or how he or she does it, in a way that’s appropriate to the setting. A hero with a companion-type specialism might be able to:

  • Lift heavy things, thanks to a robot buddy
  • Fly with the help of a winged puppet
  • Coordinate attacks against orcs and dragons
  • Cross between the world of the living and the land of the dead
  • Scout out the enemy fortress, seeing it through a robotic bee’s eyes
  • and more…

USR Wednesdays: Signature Actions

One of the great things about USR’s flexibility is how much you can say with a single Specialism: a classic fantasy Thief is assumed to be good at sneaking, picking locks, quickly assessing the value of an object, backstabbing enemies, and so on. Someone with an Assault Rifle weapon doesn’t just have a powerful gun; they also know how to use it, carry it, maintain it and so on.

But sometimes you have a signature action — a way you use the skill, tool, weapon, or other Specialism that no one else does the way you do, or no one else does at all. Think of the cowboy gunslinger who has an extra single-shot derringer secreted away in his boot when his trusty sixguns are out, or the druid who doesn’t just talk to animals — they come to him to pass along information, without even being asked.

A signature action is chosen at the same time you select a Specialism. Each Specialism can only have one signature action at a time, though you can switch to another one at any time, as long as the game master approves. It should make sense for the story, though; a captain who’s a master at keeping his ship steady through a storm won’t suddenly become an America’s Cup yacht race champ, even though both signature actions would apply to the Sailing Specialism, or something similar.

A signature action awards an additional +1 to any die roll where it applies, so it’s one better than the Specialism, no matter what bonus the Specialism provides.

Every other image was clip art or Daredevil's enemy.
Bullseye, every time, with the right signature action.

Here are a few ideas, with a suggested appropriate Specialism.

Called shot: You gain this bonus when using a Gun or Bow to fire at a specific target, like a shoulder, a kneecap, or the weapon in an opponent’s hand.

Death from above: You’re especially effective at sneak attacks when Jumping onto an enemy.

Evocation: If you are a Wizard or Spellcaster, you’re especially good at one particular type of magic. Work with your game master to determine just what kinds of spells qualify as your type of magic.

Inspiring speech: A Military General or Leader Of Men can always rouse the troops to battle or keep them on task even when they’re exhausted, but you’re one of the best at doing it. You don’t need to roll for this, but some of your sayings show up when people are looking for motivational quotes.

Like a native: If you have French (or Elvish, or a Specialism for any language and culture), you not only know the language and customs like someone who’s lived there all their life, you also know things that most natives don’t know, from obscure history facts to slang terms that young people have just started using.

USR Wednesdays: Vampires

Creatures of the night are, of course, one of the most popular character choices in role playing, thanks to a slew of White Wolf games created in the 1990s and beyond. It inspired dozens of similar games, like “Nightlife,” and is still pretty popular; a new edition was released only a few weeks ago.

White Wolf-style vampires are very distinct from traditional RPG characters, with an emphasis on mood and personality, versus an emphasis on killing monsters and taking their stuff. But that’s not the only way to play a vampire game — a vampire can just as easily be a superhero, a character with abilities far beyond those of an ordinary person. There’s Marvel’s Morbius and Blade (a half-vampire, technically). Angel from the old “Buffy” TV show has the advantages but not many of the drawbacks that bedevil Dracula. There’s a vampire protagonist in at least a few of the “Castlevania” video games.

Here’s a few vampire-related personality Specialisms that make for heroes, or at least antiheroes:

  • Hideous Fiend
  • Mysterious Noble
  • Refined Artiste
  • Savage Killer
  • Tortured Hunter Of His Own Kind

You can hear that accent now.
Classic Dracula is best Dracula. (image: Universal)

The word “vampire” usually conjures thoughts of a tuxedo and a cape (Bela Lugosi in the 1931 “Dracula”) or a leather jacket (Edward Cullen in the “Twilight” movies). The looks may change but the powers remain fairly stable. Being fictional, there’s no hard and fast rules about what vampires are capable of, but here’s a few traditional abilities that can make for good Specialisms:

  • Animal Control
  • Animal Summoning — specifically, bats, rats, or wolves
  • Flight
  • Rapid Healing
  • Shapeshifting — specifically into bats, rats, wolves, or mist
  • Super-Speed
  • Super-Strength
  • Walk On Walls

And, of course, the one thing that makes a vampire a vampire: the ability to stay in “un-life” by drinking the blood of the living. In some fiction, the reverse, where a living creature drinks the vampire’s blood, turns it into the vampire. In others, a single vampire bite will do the trick. Sometimes, especially in stories where vampires are essentially dark superheroes, using supernatural abilities “costs” blood. In game terms, it reduces the vampire’s Hit Points. In fiction, a vampire can only use powers a few times before it’s too weak to go on — it needs to drink or sleep to recover.

Bloodsucking is a melee/hand-to-hand attack, made without any bonuses from weapons. If the victim isn’t willing, the vampire must succeed at an Action roll to hold the victim in place long enough to drink blood (which takes a single action — unless you want it to take longer for dramatic effect). Each Hit Point that’s drained from a victim is restored to the vampire, like any other healing.

USR Wednesdays: Zombies

What better way to mark Halloween than with the most popular horror creature of all (right now)? In a game where the heroes are survivors of a zombie apocalypse, there’s several ways to approach central threat:

  • The zombies are an endless horde that’s easy to kill; the trick is to get away before you’re overwhelmed.
  • The zombies are a scary surprise as you try to come to terms with the new rules of living day by day. They’re easy to avoid — if you see them coming.
  • The zombies are a part of the environment around you, like having to try and maneuver through a heavy snowstorm. These stories take place several months after the apocalypse, when everyone is used to dealing with zombies, and a new world order is sorting itself out. The real danger isn’t the living dead; it’s other humans who don’t like that you’re not under their control.

I’m sure you can think of movies and books with each of these kinds of zombie settings, and more. Any of them can be a great zombie RPG setting — an action-oriented one, if the players are in the mood to slay zombies; a suspenseful story where the existence of zombies might be a plot twist; or a tale heavy in negotiation and tough combat, fighting off both the undead and the very much alive.

They're coming to get you, PCs!
As I’ve said before, the classics never go out of style. (image: refinedguy.com)

Hordes

The ever-present threat of zombies can be represented in USR with a simple rule for hordes. When the story begins, as the first zombies appear (unless you’re starting in media res, with an enormous mob of zombies), there’s 2d6 somewhere nearby. As the plot advances, or whenever the heroes make too much noise, or whenever the gamemaster sees fit, add zombies equal to (1 + the number of players)d6.

Zombie stats are usually low — D6 or even D4 for every stat, with no Specialisms or equipment. Maybe even use the mook rule, where a zombie has only one Hit Point (an attack total of 7 against a zombie’s total of 3 doesn’t mean a single zombie lost 4 Hit Points; it means 4 different zombies were destroyed). Don’t forget that zombies move slowly, and are unable to move past obstacles or think their way out of simple traps.

Survivors

The two big rules for survivors in a zombie story are searching, where a successful Wits roll against a target number of 4 means the survivor found food, medical equipment, a working car, or a weapon. A failed roll means nothing turned up. And a die result of 1 means something was knocked over during the search, or a window shattered: the perfect time for more zombies to join the horde.

The second rule is for “horror saves,” or resisting the shock and fear of a close encounter with the dead. It can be a Wits die roll (for characters trying to rationalize their way out of the encounter) or an Ego die roll (for characters who can bluff and bluster their way through anything). Use the higher stat for a high action or comedy-type game, and use the lower stat for characters in a traditional horror story. Failing a horror save means the hero just wants to get away from the zombies, maybe at the cost of his or her allies. And rolling a 1 on a horror save or an Action roll when in battle with zombies means the worst: an infected bite that transforms the hero into a zombie, whenever it’s dramatically appropriate.

USR Wednesdays: Espionage

Last week, I introduced the concept of Free-Form Specialisms, where instead of pre-determined skills and abilities, a character can use his “+1s” to do anything he needs to do on an adventure. You lose two “+1s” if you settle on a Specialism. Let’s put this concept to work in a popular RPG setting: the world of secret agents, master thieves and assassins.

In fantasy and space opera-type science fiction, the character archetypes are instantly familiar (and have already been created for USR on this very blog): wizard, rogue, pilot, bounty hunter. Espionage games have their archetypes too — hacker, mastermind, femme fatale — but secret agent characters have more than one ability.

Pick your suave super spy.
Bond. James Bond(s). (image: eurochannel.com)

To represent this, give your hero a single Specialism as his archetype, and then also put for “+1s” on the character sheet. This is something like Pierce Brosnan-era Bond or the efficient, nick-of-time thieves of the “Ocean’s” movie series. If you’re playing a high-level espionage game, like a Roger Moore-era James Bond or Marvel S.H.I.E.L.D. story, you might want to tack on another “+1” or two, and that’s not counting any bonuses awarded for super-spy gear. Characters in a more down-to-earth game (say, Jason Bourne, or even something like “Taken”) could have fewer “+1s.”

If a character is only in the story for a moment, they’re probably best represented as NPCs. Q, the gadget-maker for James Bond, shows up just long enough to deliver a few spy tools to 007, then disappears. If he traveled with Bond, creating weapons and devices while James was seducing women and negotiating with super-villains, then he’d be a player character.

What’s a good spy archetype? I mentioned a few before, but there are more:

  • Brawler — hand-to-hand fighting, martial arts
  • Detective — seeing clues others miss, following rumors and suspicions to the end of the line
  • Driver — every spy can drive (or fly) fast; only drivers can pull off stunts that strain vehicles to their maximum
  • Femme Fatale — seduction, keeping attention on herself (or himself) so others can do their jobs
  • Gadgeteer — inventing tools, detecting and defusing traps
  • Hacker — breaking into computer systems, writing viruses
  • Infiltrator — breaking into buildings, slipping through locks, defusing security systems
  • Mastermind — conceiving a plan, changing the plan on the spur of the moment when it goes wrong
  • Politician — con artist who’s good at making allies and using his words to cool everything down
  • Sniper — master of all firearms, expert at extremely long-distance shots
  • Soldier — punching, shooting, staying in the fight longer than anyone else

USR Wednesdays: Video Game Variety and Free-Form Specialisms

I don’t play many video games. My work time is spent in front of a screen, and I use a computer a lot at home, too (to write this blog, for example!). I’m more of a fan of traditional games — card games, board games, tabletop role playing games. I always raise an eyebrow when YouTube suggests “gamer” content to me, because nine times out of 10 it’s “Minecraft” or “Fortnite” or something. Those are games, but not my kind of games.

I think the problem I have with video games, besides screen time, is the options: there’s just too many things to keep track of at once. Take a classic video game, “Space Invaders.” There’s two options: move and shoot, and move is limited to left/right. Very simple. Move to the later generations of games, and we have two buttons on the NES controller, six (I think) on the Genesis, and after that I lose track (10 or so on a modern controller?). With a first person shooter-type game, you have weapons and abilities to scroll through, a heads-up display, maps, hit point tracks, and several other things on every screen.

I've played about half these systems.
Too many buttons? Maybe. (image: extremetech.com)

A game like that is still a lot of fun to play — but it’s a lot more fun if you can keep track of everything, to make use of it the way it’s meant to be used. I could learn that, if I put in the screen time, but I’d rather bring the concept to a game I already enjoy… Domino Writing-style USR.

The ancestor of a first person shooter with its dozens of things to track is of course our favorite tabletop role playing games, where you mark all the things you need to track on a sheet of paper instead of letting a computer do everything for you. But USR is on the other end of the spectrum, a simple system that gets players up and running in no time. Instead of a list of a dozen abilities, USR offers bonuses that can be used any way a player wants. I call them Free-Form Specialisms, though they’re not really Specialisms; they aren’t even recorded on a character sheet!

Free-Form Specialisms

A beginning character doesn’t select three Specialisms, each with a +2 bonus; instead, the character begins with 6 “+1s” to spend on any roll you wish. The bonuses can be added to any roll, before or after the die is rolled. Any number of bonuses can be added to the same roll. A character regains all his or her “+1s” at the beginning of every game session, but can never go above 6.

If a player decides on a Specialism for his or her character, the Specialism is written on the character sheet, with a +2 bonus (for a starting hero). In return for choosing a Specialism, the character immediately loses two “+1s.” So a character with a single Specialism would have a +2 in the Specialism and four “+1s” to spend during the adventure.

Free-Form Specialisms are a little like Narrative Points, but they’re more specific, and represent a character’s wide range of knowledge and expertise, rather than his or her capability to change the story. They’re mainly to get the game started even more quickly — all a player has to do now is decide which stat gets which die, and spend Combat Gear points — or to help players who want to see how their character develops over time.

Free-Form Specialisms are things your character can do well: things you don’t have to specifically keep track of, things that let you do whatever you need to do to have the most fun you can in the game. All without staring at a screen.

USR Wednesdays: Hijinx

Picking up where we left off, we’re skipping classes because USR doesn’t have ‘em. It doesn’t have damage types, either, except as a story-telling element (being struck by lightning or frozen by ice is damage either way, but each looks and sounds different). But the D20 Hijinx game makes damage types into types of vibes, which is useful for our USR version. In our case, the damage types are Specialisms.

Rock and roll all nite!
The line between rock and fantasy adventuring has to include Gene Simmons somewhere. (image: kiss.com)

  • Rockin’: An intense song, either about having a party or about how the world is really unjust to wealthy rock and hip hop stars.
  • Ballad: Just the thing to calm everyone down and win over parents who worry that your music is corrupting their children.
  • Catchy: An earworm that makes everyone remember your band long after the show. Don’t roll too high on this kind of “attack,” or you may become a one-hit-wonder!
  • Comedy: Everyone likes a funny song, either a parody of someone else’s well-known song or a faithful cover of a song that was once popular and is now cheesy.
  • Dance: Get the crowd moving and they’ll be on your side forever.

And opposed to our music superstars? Critics and bad crowds of different types. They can be treated like any other monster (no higher than Power Level III — this is a game about playing music, not saving the world).

  • Angry: Any anti-music fan, from an over-zealous censor to an internet critic who loves to make fun of anything and everything.
  • Bored: Someone who doesn’t want to hear any music, like a parent who had to chaperone their child to the club’s bartender, who just wants to go home.
  • Distracted: Everyone under age 20 — they’re too busy looking at their phones! Also, that couple making out in the corner.
  • Jealous: Wannabes who couldn’t: rock critics, hip hop managers, and so on.
  • Snooty: People who overlook the band, like greedy record executives and hipsters who insist your group is too mainstream to be any good. “I only like bands you’ve never heard of.”

And we can’t have a game setting without a Six-Step Adventure. The band is the characters. They’ll have to decide what kind of music they play before the game starts, though if one person wants to rap while the others play pop, it looks like they’re adventuring with a guest star this time around.

1. Quest giver

The band’s manager, Marcus, says he’s booked the group at Rock Stock, where they’ll be among legendary rock groups on the first day (so the veterans can go home and recover) and indie artists on the last day (so the concert can claim to support new artists, though everyone will be gone by then). But there’s a problem — the band doesn’t have money to get to the show.

2. Early encounter

In order to raise the cash, the band members will have to find a solution. This can either be a wacky montage like “The Monkees” TV show, where everyone tries different silly jobs, or more serious, where the band is hired by Marcus’ uncle to investigate a robbery — a robbery at a music shop, of course.

3. Clue to final confrontation

After raising the cash, they head out to Rock Stock. There’s probably a few music critics and even a hostile concert organizer giving them a hard time trying to get in the door and to the dressing room. They don’t find a “clue” in the traditional sense; instead, they get a look at the acts on the stage and get a feel for how they’re performing against the crowd: what kind of music is winning them over?

4. Secondary encounter or challenge

The challenge: something goes wrong behind the scenes. Maybe the instruments disappear (darn that robber!) or an earthquake strikes. Can our heroes do something besides make music and help their reputation by being helpful in a natural disaster?

5. Secondary challenge or encounter (the opposite)

Finally, the big moment comes, and our band takes the stage. But there’s plenty of opposition, like music journalists hunting for their next target, or a crowd that just doesn’t care.

6. Final boss

And just when the concert is getting underway… the cops show up. For a hip hop or metal show, sure; the censors are always there. But what if the band’s music is G-rated, family friendly stuff? Well, blame the stage crew, with all their exposed wires and safety hazards. It’s one thing after another. Our heroes are constantly struggling to get a good reaction from the crowd and sell albums.