student 20 Productions

Random Thoughts of a Game Developer

The Four Elements of Elements

The name Elements actually refers to two different aspects of the system, referencing both the classical elements of western alchemy (Earth, Wind, Fire, and Water) and the elements of modern Chemistry (which are the building blocks of all matter in the universe).  In this post, I’m going to explain the Classical Elements reference, which is the portion of the system I am actively working on.  I will discuss the reference to modern chemistry in more detail when that becomes the active focus of development.

Elements runs on four interconnected systems: Action, Effort, Fate, and Resolution.  These systems handle all conflict resolution, accomplishment of tasks, building both characters and equipment, and everything else.  These four systems aren’t all that Elements is made of, however; they merely represent the resolution and balance systems of the game.

In summary, the four systems:


The Action system determines what a character can accomplish in a given round during combat, or whenever strict time constraints are applied to what the characters are doing.  The Action system can be used to resolve battles, social sparring, or any of a variety of conflict situations.  Action establishes turn order and determines how much a character can do during their turn.

At its most basic level, Actions works this way:  During their turn, characters receive 50 Action Points (AP).  Just about everything a character (or creature, or what have you) does costs AP.  Characters can continue to act as long as they still have AP to spend, but a Character does not have to spend all their AP – points can be held in reserve to perform special actions called Responses and Counters, or to take advantage of special situations during the battle.  Injury and other special circumstance can modify the number of AP a character has in a round, although this is unusual.


One of two dice systems in Elements, The Effort system is used when it isn’t a question of success, it’s a question of degree.  Any time a more-is-better scenario crops up, Effort is used.  The Effort system is used to end ongoing effects, determine Initiative in conflicts, and to figure out how much damage is done when someone is bitten by an ill-tempered mutant sea bass.

Succinctly, Effort dice (usually from 1 to 5 ten sided dice), modifiers are taken into account, and the results are totaled.  More is better.  Most of the time, an Effort check involves a single dice roll.  Some events, however, may require two or more Effort checks; this is called a Sustained Effort.  One example of a Sustained Effort that occurs regularly is the Overcome system.  Upon occasion, during conflicts, an Overcome Effect is inflicted.  When an Overcome Effect is inflicted, it has a value (often itself determined by an Effort check).  Through a Sustained Effort, the inflicted character must equal or exceed the Overcome Effect’s value in order to bring it to an end.


The Fate system is the underlying “currency” of the Elements system.  That is to say, it is used to “buy” everything a character knows how to do, making it the point system by which characters are made.  Fate is also used to build equipment, and it’s also used to make Encounters set up by the GM.  Fate is further used to improve characters (as an experience system), and it also represents a character’s “luck”.  Lucky characters spend their Fate to modify dice rolls; there will even be a system to set aside a renewing pool of Fate for a character to use just for this purpose.

Modifying dice rolls with Fate is not an exact science, and does not guarantee a good outcome.  Both of the dice systems (Effort, above, and Resolution, below) are modified in an identical way with Fate:  when a character wished to modify a roll, they buy Drop Dice (abbreviated “D”, as opposed to “d” which represents standard dice, as in 4d10) for the roll at a rate of 10 Fate per D.  When making an Effort or Resolution check, each D is an additional die rolled.  When totaling the result, a number of dice of the Player’s choice are removed for each D rolled.  For example, a player might roll 5d10+2D for an Effort check.  The player would roll 7 ten sided dice, then total the results of five of those dice that he or she selected, allowing the player to modify the result of the roll up or down as necessity required.


Resolution is used whenever the success or failure of an even is in question.  It is used to determine if a character successfully picks a lock, hacks a data fortress, hits with a laser blaster, or successfully puts one over on the Duke.  Resolution is the second dice system Elements uses.

Simply put, most of the time, a player rolls Resolution dice (5d10), totals the result, and compares it to a number on his or her character sheet.  If equal to or lower than that number, the character succeeds.  Especially challenging circumstances invoke Penalty Dice (abbreviated with a “p” preceded by a number, i.e. 2p), which must be rolled and totaled in addition to the standard Resolution dice.   If the player rolls all 1s, that indicates Epic Failure, while rolling 5 or more 10s means Epic Success.

And That’s the Basics

The first chapter of the book describes all of these systems in more detail, outlining common situations and so on in which the systems above are used.  The four systems are, as I previously said, interconnected; the most obvious connection is through Fate, but most Actions also require Effort or Resolution rolls, for instance.

For those that prefer the classical Japanese elements, or like to bring up the so-called “fifth element” of western alchemy, there is a sort-of fifth system.  This system – Structure, if you like – represents the framework upon which characters, objects, and so on are built using Fate… I, personally, consider this a part of the Fate system, but fans of Musashi can claim Fate is Void and Structure is… well, earth, metal, whatever.  I only drew a parallel between the classical elements and the four systems – I never claimed that one or the other of them was directly representative of Fire or anything like that.

Anyway, that’s one hell of a long post; I should probably have divided it up into four posts, one for each system… but hey, it’s all written now, so I hope you enjoyed reading it.

Single Post Navigation

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: