student 20 Productions

Random Thoughts of a Game Developer

Elements in Detail

This post (a continuation of the last one) is concerned with providing more specific details on Elements, and the associated abilities of Maneuvers and Processes. I don’t want to ramble on about this, so I’m just going to dive into the info.

Elements represent the stuff a character knows how to do – things like training, skill, talent, special abilities (like magic, super powers, or cybernetics), and so on. Elements are, in a very real way, the meat of a character, and the place where the differences between one character and another really show up.

This entry really needs to be divided up into three sections – details on Elements, details on Maneuvers, and details on Processes. If I have time, I’ll also go over Specialization and Qualities – two other important aspects of an Element.

Details on Elements

As previously described, Elements represent what a character knows, where their talents lie, and so on. The Elements System is named after them because they make up the meat of the system, and are also one of the more unique aspects of the system; not so much in what they are (most game systems have a “skill system” that could be considered comparable), but in how they are utilized and what all they can do and what they represent.

In the last post, I discussed ho Elements are rated (through the use of special Bonus Dice). To use an Element, you combine it’s Bonus Dice with the Base Effort Dice of a Condition that best represents how you’re using the Element. For instance, if you had an Interrogation Element, you could combine it with Fatigue to apply physical pressure to your subject; you could use it with the Passion Condition to appeal to your subject’s better nature or to plea with your heart; you could use it with Insight to “read” your subject during the interrogation: you could use it with Steadiness to make accurate use of implements of torture (or to make it look like you could, if you wanted to; the CIA says that’s more effective, anyway).

Elements also provide access to more specific abilities – Maneuvers, Processes, and Qualities. All three of these provide a specific effect related to  the Element in question. It is also possible to limit how a character can use an Element, thereby reducing it’s cost during character generation and when improving through experience; this is called Specialization.

Details on Maneuvers

The following comes from the Character Generation chapter of the rulebook. I think it does a pretty good job of summing things up:

“Maneuvers are special ways of using Elements when in combat. Using a Maneuver creates a specific, predefined effect, and costs a specific number of Actions. Most of the time, Maneuvers are about combative movement, maneuver, quick-fix healing of self and allies, and special attacks (e.g. inflicting States or dealing out more damage than usual – or both), and aren’t all that useful out of combat; when you’re not in a fight, you’ll probably want to use Processes (see below).”

In short, Maneuvers are special, specific applications of an Element that pertain directly to Combat. A Maneuver is predefined: it lists which Condition is used to gain Base Effort Dice for the check, what defines the Challenge of the Effort, and so on. To use a Maneuver, you spend the indicated number of Actions and make an Effort check with the Element in question. If you meet or exceed the Challenge, you succeed.

Maneuvers that deal damage can be specially improved to deal more than their listed damage. In this way, a Character can be built to concept without regard to things like selecting the best weapon, super power, or spell path. Of course, if your game group doesn’t care about optimization, and your Game Master is running the game right, such tactics are unneeded – Elements simply makes allowances for them.

Details on Processes

Once again, a direct quote from the rule book will get the job done here:

“Processes are essentially the non-combative equivalent of a Maneuver. Processes generally take at least several seconds – if not minutes or hours – to perform, making them more or less useless in combat. There are circumstances when you might need to use a Process in combat – the rules for this are found in the Combat chapter.”

A Process is a specific, defined, non-combative use of an Element.They are essentially the same thing, with only two differences – Processes take longer to perform, and they do not deal damage directly to a target (generally speaking). To use a Process, you declare that you are using it, and when the indicated amount of in-game time passes, you make an Effort Check based on the Element the Process is associated with.

Unlike Maneuvers, even if a Process did deal direct damage to a target, there is no method for improving that damage beyond what is listed in the Process. This shouldn’t be a big deal; Processes aren’t really meant to be used in a fight anyway, and are mostly used when the characters have time on their hands – meaning that dealing damage quickly is largely inconsequential. If you’re at the point where you need to put out a lot of hurt in a hurry, you should probably be using an Maneuver anyway.

Details on Qualities and Specialization

A Quality is an ability derived from an Element that a character always has access to, and is essentially always in effect. For instance, a Character might have a Outdoor Survival Element that allows them to gain a Direction Sense Quality. Instead of making an Effort Check to determine North, or follow a path they were just on, the character would simply know which way was North, and how to follow the path back to where they began. Qualities can provide abilities that most people with an Element simply don’t have, but generally speaking, Qualities make it so that basic uses of the Element no longer require an Effort Check to perform.

Sometimes, people are incredibly focused in how they study something; this is where Specialization comes in. A Specialized Element can only be used in combination with a single predefined Condition. To extend the Interrogation example above, a brutish fellow might only know how to get information out of people by using physical force, and Specialize their Interrogation Element as Fatigue Only. Any Maneuvers, Processes, or Qualities related to other Conditions would be out of their reach, and applications of the Element using other Conditions would be made as if the Character didn’t know the Condition at all. In return, however, the character pays significantly less for the Element during Character Generation and when improving through experience. To learn the other ways of using the Element, the Character needs to essentially start over, buying up the Element in an Unspecialized version. While learning the Element in this new, more versatile form, they  still know and can use their specific brand of that Element.

Wrapping Up

Wow – that took a lot less time than I thought. Which is good, because I want to get back to working on the game, and my time is limited tonight.

The next post will go into some other specifics of the game. I think that we’ll go over Effort Checks and Challenges in more detail, and cover the special applications of those things – maybe including the Getting By on Competence method of succeeding at an Effort Check. But don’t quote me – I might decide to discuss Combat or the difference between a Player’s Character and a NPC instead.

In any case, I hope you’ve enjoyed this basic primer on how things work. I’ve enjoyed writing them ,and I can’t help but wonder why I didn’t start doing this sooner. Until next post (I’m guessing later this week to make up for the lateness of this post); I really need to stick to my schedule…


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3 thoughts on “Elements in Detail

  1. What is this crap?


    Are you trying to show me up? Hah? Hah?

    The Hell, dude. The. Hell.

    Typical nonsense aside, I’m not sure you need to do that. If someone catches an error, you mention it in the comments, then change it. Common courtesy and all. Otherwise, treat it like a draft – correct it and forget it.

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