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Random Thoughts of a Game Developer

Archive for the month “June, 2010”


Is this post late? Is it? I’m starting to think that instead of updating on Sunday, this blog actually updates on Wednesday or early Thursday. Anyway…

I’m not going to say a whole lot today. The Elements rulebook has hit just over 10,000 words, which is pretty cool if you ask me. I’ve finished Chapter 1 and started on Chapter 2 (character generation). Below, I’ve included an excerpt from the Challenges section of Chapter 1 for your consideration.

Things are going smoothly, if slowly, in case anyone was wondering. Without further digression:

Whenever a player is rolling a basic Effort check – be it a normal one or a Cumulative Effort – they are attempting to equal or overcome a Challenge. Sometimes that Challenge is fairly easy, sometimes it’s very difficult or neigh on impossible. Either way, the Player hopes to at best equal and at least exceed the Challenge.

This section describes Challenge in more detail. Although of interest to all participants in an Elements game, this section is targeted primarily toward the GM and the Adversary. It describes what Challenge numbers mean – both standard and ongoing. It will also touch on the ways that a Challenge can be modified, either for or against the Players.

In Elements, Players roll the dice, and GMs set the Challenges. NPCs are made up of static Challenge numbers and lists of capabilities. Unlike Players, a GM should never have to pick up dice. While this might seem a little less fun, it simplifies the GM’s job substantially; encounters are much easier to build and evaluate when you don’t have to worry about critical strikes and awesome GM rolls accidentally resulting in a Total Party Kill (TPK).

Of course, GMs are welcome to build things the way Players do, and roll the dice every bit as much as the Players do; the GM roll sets the Challenge the Player is trying to overcome. The system will work that way – but it’s not the best way to use Elements.

In the following sections, an outline for how hard different Challenge levels are is given, and how Challenge should be ramped up based on broadly defined TC levels. In addition, something called “Layered Challenges” will be addressed. Finally, the various situational modifiers are addressed.



And that’s it for now. See you next week (or sooner, if I have time)!

Wow. Oh, so late! But… Juicy Contenty Goodness!

So, yeah – I’ll admit it. I’m late as hell posting this. I mean, I’m upset about that, obviously, but there’s been some crap going on, not to put too fine a point on it. I’m fixing to move in the near future, and (even more fun), my lovely girlfriend got a promotion at work that has increased her pay… and the amount of time she spends at work, which is less fantastic.

But all of this is personal stuff that’s really not here or there. As I indicated in the title, I have juicy contenty goodness… what Zim might call “Mission Goo”. I have actual excerpts from the rulebook.

I have, for quite some time, gone back and forth as to what I should post this time. I have settled on the Base Effort Dice and Special Dice sections of Chapter One: Effort. I may also post excerpts from the Introduction in the near future (the part of it I was able to write, anyway). It makes the most sense (to me at least) to post from chapters I’m currently doing work on, so here it is.

Let me know what you think – I am especially concerned with clarity. It’s a little hard to evaluate the whole of the rules from this, so I mostly want to know if it’s easy to follow and understand, and if not, what parts are confusing.

And, yes – I am much further in the design process than chapter 1. Don’t be silly. I’m working on a rulebook and putting out fires as I come across them, but most of the actual design process is done.

At any rate… without further ado…

Base Effort Dice

The Elements system is based on the ten sided die. The base ten sided a character has to roll for an Effort Check are usually gained from their Conditions – those aspects of the character that show what “condition” they are in.

Conditions grant a single ten sided die for an Effort check for every fraction of ten points in that Condition. For example, a character with a current Will Condition of 23 has three BED for their Will-based Effort checks. If that character then lost 4 Will, leaving them with a current score of 19, they would have only two BED for their Will-Based Efforts.

Base Effort Dice can also be gained from other things; for instance, a character might have exceptionally fine tools that provide 1 BED when they are used for crafting or repairs. Characters may also gain items that provide BED for Damage Effort Checks (see below), or that provide entire Elements for them to use, in which case the item’s BED are used rather than the character’s.

The BED are what are totaled when a character makes an Effort check. Characters may roll additional dice if they have Special Dice bonuses that apply to the roll, but only an number of dice equal to their BED may be added into the roll. In addition, the Elements system is a “closed” system; under normal circumstances, you cannot have more than 5 BED for any given Effort checks. In addition, any total Effort result in excess of 50 is treated as though it is 50. There are exceptions, but other than Overcome and Initiative Effort Checks (see below), such exceptions are exceedingly rare.

Special Dice

Special dice are the most common sort of bonus and penalty in the Elements game. Special Dice modify the way BED are added together or treated. There are three “bonus” type special dice, and one “penalty” type.

Only five of any one type of Bonus Dice can be applied to any given Effort Check, while up to ten Penalty Dice may be applied to a check. Each of the Bonus and Penalty Dice are described in detail below. Each type modifies Effort checks in a different, specific way, and is intended to represent a different thing within the game.

Drop Dice

The first “bonus type” of Special Dice, Drop Dice increases the likelihood of both a high Effort result, and allow for fine-tuning of that result, increasing the odds of an Epic Success. Drop Dice typically represent extensive training and practice with something.

When Drop Dice are applied to a particular roll, the player rolls extra dice in addition to their BED equal to the number of drop dice they have. These extra dice are not totaled in; instead, the Player “drops” dice in excess of their BED from the roll.

Example: Pat’s character Grogg is a highly trained and practiced swordsman. He has the Weapon: Longsword Element with 4d (four drop dice). He also has a current Steadiness Condition of 44, giving him 5 BED. He rolls a total of 9 dice for Steadiness-Based Longsword related Effort Checks, but he only adds together 5 of them. He gets to choose which five on each roll, however.

Drop Dice are an important and significant bonus, significantly increasing the likelihood of either high results or Epic Success; they do not, however, allow characters to achieve results in excess of the maximum total of their BED. For that, characters need…

Bounce Dice

The second type of Bonus Dice, Bounce Dice allow a character to achieve results in excess of the typical maximum of 10x their BED. Bounce Dice are intended to represent innate talent and bursts of inspiration or skill beyond the character’s normal ability.

A character with Bounce dice makes an Effort check normally. He or She may re-roll any result of 10 keeping the original result and adding in the result of the reroll. This may be done a number of times equal to the number of Bounce dice the character has for that roll.

Example: Stephanie’s character Aliah is a talented Sorceress, with 3b (three bounce dice)in her Sorcery Element. She makes a Fatigue-Sorcery Effort (3 BED plus her three Bounce dice) against a Challenge of 25 and rolls 1, 2, and 10 for a total of 13. Using one Bounce Die, she picks up the ten and rolls it again, getting another 10, for a new total of 23 – still not enough, but since she rolled another ten, she picks it up and rolls again, getting a 5 for a final total of 28 – success! Although she has an additional Bounce die, she cannot use it because she no longer has any 10s left to re-roll.

Bounce Dice can be a life-saving bonus because they allow characters to get results that are actually higher than their BED would normally allow. This makes Bounce dice particularly useful for Effort checks made for things where accuracy does not matter – Initiative, Overcome, and Damage Efforts are all good examples.

Mastery Dice

The third type of Bonus Dice is a protective measure. Mastery Dice reduce the effects of Penalty Dice (described below), protecting your other Special Dice (and your BED) from their effects. Mastery dice are intended to indicate high levels of practiced mastery, allowing characters to ignore or work through adverse conditions.

When a character with Mastery Dice is faced with an Effort check to which Penalty Dice are applied, the Mastery Dice destroy the Penalty Dice on a one-for-one basis. Mastery dice do not otherwise affect Effort checks.

Although Mastery Dice do not seem especially powerful, protection from penalties is an important aspect of the Elements system. In their own way, Mastery Dice contribute as much to success or failure as the other types of Special Dice – at least, they do when the chips are down.

Penalty Dice

Penalty Dice are used in the Elements system to represent adversity. Where Challenge represents how difficult something is to accomplish during normal circumstances, penalty dice indicate added difficulty due to environmental concerns, using bad tools, outdated software, or unfamiliar territory.

Penalty Dice work by destroying first Special Dice and then BED before an Effort check is made. Mastery Dice are destroyed first. After that, it is the Player’s choice which Special Dice are removed and in what order. If all of a player’s Special Dice are destroyed, and there are still Penalty Dice remaining, BED are lost. One die is lost per Penalty Die (p) applied to the check.

Example: Nicole’s character Gray is a veteran Archer, with a Steadiness Condition of 43 and a 2d2b3m (two drop dice, two bounce dice, and two mastery dice) in her Archery Element. She has been assigned the task of sniping the evil enchanter while her teammates keep the bad guys distracted. Typically a Challenge 30 task, Nicole is still confident that Gray can handle it. Unfortunately, in the first round, the evil enchanter surrounded the battlefield in a concealing fog, invoking an 8p penalty to all ranged attacks. Gray has gone from 5BED2d2b3m to just 4BED!

Penalty Dice aren’t the only sort of penalty characters encounter, but they are by far the most common.

Could I possibly be more off topic?

Well, I’m actually a week behind on Doctor Who, and I don’t know how that happened.

Anyway, I have to say that I’ve never been this way before. I’m starting to think of the new season of Doctor Who as the best one yet; Matt Smith was an inspired choice, although I didn’t much care for him at first.

The thing that’s boggling me is that I both love and hate the most recent recovery from the old series.  I’m dying to drop spoilers, but all I will say is that these particular recoveries from the old series not only fell short of my expectations, they’ve left a virtual guarantee that I’ll have to deal with them again… making them the exact opposite of the Sontarans, who in the new series are finally the threat they always should have been, but left no obvious pick-up for a next episode.

And the thing that’s boggling me the most is that despite the fact that the handling of this recovery from the old series wasn’t what I was hoping for, the episodes in question were everything I want out of Doctor Who…

It’s maddening.

It’s sort of like the Karate Kid remake; if they’d called it something else, I’d totally be down with it…

That having been said, I’ll try to make an on-topic post tomorrow.  Tonight, I’m catching up with Doctor Who.

Oh, and I finished a preliminary glossary of terms and glossary of abbreviations. Just so that I can say that the whole post wasn’t off topic.

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