student 20 Productions

Random Thoughts of a Game Developer

The New Elements Dice System

I have been wanting to post for days, but IRL things (mostly, an almost three year old who seems to have gone insane) have been draining all of my time and energy; what energy I have left is usually devoted to continuing work on Elements.

I mentioned before that my work on 16 Bit Heroes has caused me to reconsider some of the things I was doing with Elements. I thought that, since I actually have time and energy today, I would go over some of my thinking, mostly the new resolution system I’ve come up with and why I felt Elements needed the change.

First of all, let me go on record saying that I loved the old system – the collection of special dice applied to a 5d10 roll, with precision increasing the chance of critical success and decreasing the chance of critical failure. It was a fabulous system, and I loved the idea of keeping everything in a box (from 5 to 50). It’s a neat idea, and I may use it for something else, but it doesn’t really fit well with Elements overall for a variety of reasons.

First of all, it’s a bit unwieldy for a system where you stack scores. Combining different scores based on modifying dice gets complicated when you start putting together three or four different things. Another problem was that the whole thing was really on a one to fifteen or so scale (you could only apply fifteen bonus dice to anything) – which is fine if your game has a set genre, but since Elements was ostensibly a universal system (and still is, by the way), it makes using the same system to run both super-heroes and survival horror almost silly on a conceptual level. You’d have to redefine what – in real world terms – four drop dice meant for each genre, and cross-genre play (dark fantasy heroes meet flamboyant space opera, for instance) is essentially impossible. Finally, the biggest problem is that it was almost impossible to tell, at a glance, how good a person is at something. Sure, having five drop dice means a lot… but how does it compare to two drop dice, a bounce die, and two cushion dice? Either way, you’ve got five bonus dice – which is better?


Yay dice ambivilance!

Gaming dice - the Elements system no longer cares which ones you use.

The new dice system is much more flexible, has no upper end cap, and is… how should I put it? Well, as of now, I’m calling it “dice ambivalent”.  Basically, for everything you do, you have a Competence, which is either a single number, or the sum of two numbers, and is expressed as a bonus (something like +32, or +25). Whenever a character performs a Check against something, you can convert some or all of this bonus to whatever sort of dice you like – each die costs half its maximum value in Competence (so you could take a +32 and turn it into 1d20+22, 8d8, 10d6+2, 1d6+2d8+2d20+1 – however you want to break it down). You can just let things ride on the character’s Competence (which gives an immediate and easy way to compare how good one character is at something to another), or try to up to double your Competence by converting to dice, or anything in between.


Criticals are achieved by far exceeding the Difficulty, but you can only get them when rolling dice and if you can potentially fail at what you’re doing (you can only get extraordinary success by going out on a limb, testing your luck, or trying to innovate – just using mastery-level skills the way you’re used to can’t get you amazing results). Critical failure comes by rolling (again, you have to actually roll dice to fail critically) a ways under the Difficulty. Probably – I’m still ironing out the kinks on the Epic Fail end of the spectrum.

Anyway, that’s a brief look at the new Elements dice system. Since it uses flat numbers, comparisons are easy, as are adding bonuses, applying penalties, and modifying character creation costs based on weaknesses. I also can’t think of any system that uses something like it (although it bears a passing resemblance to the current d6 System…), which also makes me happy. Any comments? Questions?

That’s about all for now. Let me know what you think.

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