I’ve mentioned Smallville before. Several times now, I think. Despite being a licensed property, it’s essentially a setting-free game using the Cortex Plus engine, which is designed to model the genre of soap operas, specifically super-powered teenage soap operas.
I love the game, but having run three campaigns and played in a fourth, I know that it’s not perfect. I can see the cracks. Someday I’ll discuss my issues with the mechanics, but for now I want to talk about the core book itself.
Put bluntly, the book is laid out terribly. There is no index and it is almost impossible to cross-reference. Some rules are mentioned in only one place, which can be hidden in the middle of paragraphs or even in sidebar examples. In some places it even contradicts itself. For example, the number of Plot Points given out to players at the start of a session is explained in exactly two places, and they give different answers.
A lot of these little annoyances are fixed in online errata (the number of Plot Points given out at the start of a session depends on how many players in the group, for example), and in subsequent material (The Watchtower Report, and more especially the Cortex Plus Hacker’s Guide), but the core book itself remains unwieldy.
Plot Points, by the way, are the game’s currency. They flow between players and the GM throughout the game. In a perfect example of how badly the core book is structured, there is no list of all the things that Plot Points do. There is a list on page 9 of the core book, but it’s not complete.
Therefore, I present here a full list of everything you can do with Plot Points during a game of Smallville. How you can Spend them, Earn them, and other ways you might receive them.
To players of Smallville, I hope this is useful. I always give this list to my players in every session (and keep one for myself, of course). For everyone else, it is not intended to tell you how the game works, but it may give you a flavour of it. If you’ve never played Smallville before, I do recommend giving it a try.
In the following list, I have given page references for everything. They are in brackets after the relevant information, and preceded by a letter. I have compiled this list from three sources, and page references for each are preceded by a different letter:
- Page references preceded by S (e.g. S9) are from the core Smallville Roleplaying Game
- Page references preceded by W (e.g. W81) are from The Watchtower Report
- Page references preceded by H (e.g. H174) are from the Cortex Plus Hacker’s Guide
There’s a fourth book as well, called High School Yearbook, but it doesn’t contain any new rules about Plot Points.
The Hacker’s Guide, by the way, is the only one that is still in print, and it includes a copy of the full rules of Smallville (which it calls Cortex Plus Dramatic Roleplaying) as well as two other Cortex Plus games. It is organised much better than the core book that I’m complaining about here, and streamlines some of the rules. It’s a good buy; you should get it.
Spending Plot Points
- Roll more dice from your Traits. Before a roll, spend a Plot Point to describe how one of your Traits is relevant to the situation and add that Trait’s die to your pool. This means you can roll in extra Relationships, Values, or Assets, or can be helped by extra Resources (Extras or Locations). It also means you can spend one of your own Stress Traits, as long as your opposition doesn’t want to use it against you. (S7, S9, H174)
- Include more dice in your result. After a roll, spend a Plot Point to add an extra dice from the pool you just rolled to the result (which is, by default, the highest two). (S9, H174)
- Exploit a Useful Detail. Exploit a Useful Detail from the story (an improvised weapon, a damning piece of evidence, an advantageous position on a staircase) and add a d6 to your pool. A Useful Detail lasts for the remainder of the scene and can be used as often as you can justify during the scene. Other players must spend their own Plot Points to gain the same benefit. (S9, H174)
- Add a Relationship. Spend a Plot Point to add a d6 Relationship with a Feature to your sheet. Write your opinion of the Feature immediately as the Relationship statement. After the first scene with that Feature, the Relationship steps back to d4. (S9, H175)
- Activate your Assets. Some Distinctions or Abilities may have triggers or Spend effects that give you a benefit when you spend a Plot Point. These are described in the rules for those Assets. (S9, H175) A Plot Point that you spend to activate your Special Effect also lets you roll in the Ability as a second Asset if it comes down to a Contest. (W81)
- Activate a Feature’s Distinction. When a Feature has a Distinction with an Earn trigger, Watchtower may ask players if they want to buy the trigger’s drawback. Any player can spend the Plot Point to make the trigger happen. (S91)
- Get help from Resources that are not on your sheet. All Extras and Locations can be used to Aid you by giving you a die to include in your result. If the Extras and Locations are on your sheet, they are free to use (as long as they are in the scene, see next); if the Extras and Locations are not on your sheet, you can spend a Plot Point for them to Aid you if you describe how. Resources you gain this way start at 2d6, but remember that a Resource is stepped down to a single die (in this case d6) after the first use of a session and cannot be used at all after two uses no matter who uses the Resource. If you are using a Resource from another Lead’s sheet, you pay the Plot Point to that Lead, not to Watchtower. (S9, S7, S127, H175)
- Bring one of the Extras from your sheet into the scene. Your Extras (Resources) are free to use as long as they are in the scene (even remotely or in spirit, if that is sufficient). If they are not around to Aid you, you can spend a Plot Point to bring them into the scene, even over the phone if that’s what works. Keep in mind that, once they’re in the scene, they are valid targets for Watchtower’s attention. (S7)
- Remove a die from the Trouble pool when Watchtower rolls a complication. When Watchtower rolls a complication (a 1 on any die rolled), spend a Plot Point to remove a die of that size or smaller from the Trouble pool. (S8, H175)
- Give In during an ongoing Contest. If you Give In at the start of a Contest, there is no penalty. However, if you have made at least one roll during the Contest and subsequently wish to Give In rather than make a reaction roll (that is, do as the opposition wants and take no Stress), then you must spend a Plot Point to your opposition. (S57, H175)
- Cause Stress to opposition even though they choose to Give In. In Contests where the stated aim is to harm (physically or emotionally) an opponent, and the opponent chooses to Give In (thus roleplaying their acquiescence but not taking Stress on their sheet), you can pay a Plot Point (in addition to paying back any Plot Point that they gave you in order to Give In) to cause Stress. (The highest die from the Stress pool is moved to Trouble before rolling Stress.) (S57)
- Interfere in a Contest or overrule interference. During a Contest, an uninvolved Lead can choose to Interfere in the Contest. After either side makes an escalating roll, the uninvolved Lead pays a Plot Point to Watchtower, says how they intend to Interfere, and rolls dice as normal. If the Interference result bears the last action result, the Lead has Interfered and ended the Contest unless both sides pay Plot Points to the interfering Lead in order to continue regardless. (S57, H175)
- Shutdown an opponent’s Ability by using its Limit. If you use a Limit of an opponent’s Ability (at the same time tripling the die relating to that Limit), you can pay a Plot Point to the opponent and Shutdown an Ability. (H164)
- Shutdown Abilities connected to a Heritage Distinction by using its Limit. If you use a Limit of a Heritage Distinction against an opponent with that Heritage (at the same time tripling the die relating to that Limit), and you would inflict Stress at a die level equal to or greater than the opponent’s Ability die rating, you can pay a Plot Point to the opponent and Shutdown an Ability. (S102)
- Restore Abilities that have been Shutdown. If one of your Abilities has been Shutdown by exposure to a Limit, and the Limiting condition has since been removed, you can regain the Ability by spending a Plot Point (to create a Useful Detail). (S102)
Earning Plot Points
- Activate a Distinction’s Earn trigger. Some Distinctions have Earn triggers that allow you to collect a Plot Point from Watchtower by doing something (or choosing to have something happen) that is disadvantageous to your Lead. (S91)
- Step back a Drive when Giving In. When Giving In during a Contest, you can choose to step back one of your Drives (Relationships or Values) in order to earn a Plot Point (which can be used to pay to Give In if you have already rolled in this Contest). (The stepped back Drive can be stepped up again during a tag scene, or left stepped back and added to Growth, in the same way as if it had been Challenged.) (S56, H176)
- Invoke the Convenient Unconsciousness rule. When you take Stress but are not about to be Stressed Out, you can choose to be Stressed Out and Earn a Plot Point. You also step back all your Stress Traits by one, but don’t control what happens next. (S56)
- Shutdown an Ability when you encounter its Limit. You may choose to Shutdown one of your own Abilities when you are exposed to the Ability’s Limit. (H174, H164)
- “I Don’t Have It”. If you choose not to have your Gear on you in a scene. (W89)
- Following a sideline episode. If the players play Sideliners instead of Leads for an episode, the Leads affected by the Sideliners’ choices at the end of the sideline episode gain a Plot Point at the start of the following episode to help deal with the crisis that the Sideliners have caused. (W46, W48)
Receiving Plot Points
- Another player (Lead or Feature) spends a Plot Point in a Contest against you. Any Plot Points spent in a Contest are paid to the opposing player. Note that Plot Points earned in a Contest cannot be used in the same Contest. (S9)
- Roll a complication. If you roll a 1 on any die in any roll, a complication has occurred. In addition to something bad happening, Watchtower may choose to pay you a Plot Point to add the complication die to the Trouble pool, OR step up a die already in the Trouble pool, OR add a d6 Useful Detail to the ongoing Contest. (H173-174)
- Watchtower turns a die from Trouble into a Useful Detail. When rolling dice for a Feature, Watchtower can (just like a Lead) pay a Plot Point in order to exploit a Useful Detail. Rather than adding a d6, Watchtower may remove a die of any rating from the Trouble pool, which becomes a Useful Detail of that rating. (S58)
- Watchtower uses a Useful Detail or Resource against you in a Test. When rolling Tests (i.e. the whole Trouble pool), Watchtower can still spend Plot Points to add a Useful Detail at d6 or a Resource at 2d6. (H175-176)
- Minor Feature uses Depth in a way not covered by the Depth statement. Some Features (including Cliques) have Depth statements that Watchtower can use like Resources to add to the Feature’s result. When Watchtower uses Depth like this but in a way not covered by the Depth statement, they give the Lead a Plot Point. (W14)
- Don’t use a Disempowered Gear or Ability. If Watchtower has Disempowered your Gear or Ability, you can Earn a Plot Point whenever that Gear or Ability would have been useful. Limit once per scene. (S76, W89)