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Details, details…

It has come to my attention (thanks to a good friend) that I actually haven’t provided anything resembling a mechanical summary of the Elements system – I’ve posted a lot of vague details, and even excerpts, but the overall picture hasn’t materialized. Worse, I haven’t posted anything detailing goals or anything like that. Ahh, well – none of us are perfect, all of us have fallen short, et al, et cetera, and so it goes.

So, with this post, I thought I’d outline a few things – the basics of Elements mechanics, and a few of the things I’m shooting for. I’m going to make this post as short as such a thing can be – this is meant to be a summary, and that’s it. If this page goes over well, a revised version of it will become available in the “About Elements” page.

Basic Mechanics – Effort and Challenge

At it’s heart, Elements works like this: Players gain Effort dice (a number of ten sided dice) from their Conditions (see below), add in special “bonus dice” from the Element they are using, and roll. The result (their “Effort) is compared to a Challenge number. If the Effort exceeds the Challenge, the character succeeds. If the Effort is exactly the same as the Challenge number, the success is Epic.

Now, that’s all well and good, but there are a few pieces of missing information in there:

  1. What exactly are Conditions?
  2. What are Elements?
  3. What are Bonus Dice?

Which is fair enough to ask. In order:

Conditions – How are you doing?

Conditions represent different things about the character that form the basics of their abilities. Conditions are about things like how much punishment one can take, how clever a character is, and so on. Conditions provide Base Effort Dice (BED) for Effort Checks: for every 10 points in a  Condition, you gain 1BED for all checks related to that Conditions. In Elements, we round up, so someone with a Passion Condition of 8 would get 1BED, and a character with 23 would get 3BED when they used their Passion Condition.

Conditions can be damaged by a variety of means, from exotic super-powers to a punch in the face. As a Condition goes down, you loose BED, making it harder and harder to use Elements associated with that Condition. The base Conditions are:

  • Fatigue, representing brute physical force and endurance when used for BED, and representing how worn out a character is in general.
  • Insight, representing intellect, reasoning, memory, and that sort of thing when used for BED, and representing a character’s cunning, cleverness, alertness, and sensory acuity in general.
  • Passion, representing desire for victory, force of will, and dedication to a cause when used for BED, and representing how strongly a character feels about what they are doing in general.
  • Steadiness, representing a character’s precision motor skills like agility, manual dexterity, and balance when used for BED, and representing a character’s physical precision in general.
  • Wounds, representing all of the above when used for BED (but at a cost), and representing how much physical punishment a character can endure in general. Unlike other Conditions, Wounds isn’t “bought” during character generation; instead, a character’s max Wounds value is equal to an average of the other Conditions (Fatigue+Insight+Passion+Steadiness/4).

What are Elements?

Elements make up the details of a character’s abilities – what they’re good at, the kind of things they know, and so on. Levels in Elements are bought as “Bonus Dice”, as described below. Elements are things like skills, talents, and special abilities. When making an Effort Check, you combine the BED from the appropriate Condition with the Bonus Dice from the Element you’re using. For instance, if you had the Weapon: Longsword Element, you could combine it with Fatigue to make a power strike, Steadiness for a parry, Insight for general longsword knowledge (is this a good price? What’s the quality level of this sword? What’s the difference between a longsword made of bronze, iron, and steel?), or Passion when striking out at a hated enemy or when defending your honor.

Because you can – at least in theory – combine any Element with Fatigue, Insight, Passion, or Steadiness, each Element is kind of like four different abilities. These different combinations aren’t always practical – trying to combine a Science – Botany Element with Fatigue would require some creativity. If the situation comes up, however, you have the tools.

Elements also allow you to purchase Maneuvers and Processes. These two special applications of Elements allow you to pull off special things both in and out of combat. Maneuvers take a moment or two to perform, while Processes can take quite a bit longer. Both are a special application of the Element tied to a specific Condition that has a specific outcome when successful.

What are Bonus Dice?

Bonus Dice allow you to manipulate the outcome of your Effort Checks. There are three different kinds of Bonus Dice, each of which operates in its own way and represents a different sort of “mastery”. The three types are Drop Dice, Bounce Dice, and Mastery Dice.

  • Drop dice are extra dice you actually roll when you make an Effort Check – each Drop Die is an additional die rolled. When the roll is made, you select a number of dice equal to your BED for the check, and then ignore the rest. Drop Dice – even just one – allow you a much better chance of Epic Success.
  • Bounce Dice allow you to re-roll 10 results on dice, keeping the 10 result and adding in the new roll. You can re-roll a number of 10 results equal to your total number of Bounce Dice. Bounce Dice allow for results in excess of the maximum your BED could normally achieve.
  • Mastery Dice provide protection from penalties for your other Bonus Dice and your BED. The primary form of penalty in Elements is the Penalty Die, which destroys other dice at a one-for-one rate. The primary use of Mastery Dice is to protect your other dice by eating Penalty Dice before they can affect your other dice.

Wow. This is taking longer to do than I thought…. Okay, next post will cover more information about Elements, Maneuvers, Processes, and, hopefully, the goals of the system. I’d keep going, but I need to make dinner (or go out to dinner. I’m not sure which we’re doing tonight…), and this entry is already pretty long. In any case, more to come.


A Quick Post – Simplification

Alright, I just wanted to get something up here because I haven’t in a while.  I’m working on the combat system, and sort of spiraling out from there.  I’ve defined States (State of Unconsciousness, State of Confusion, et al), which are set effects that may be inflicted in (and out of) combat.

A major change from what I was working on before came where it comes to Actions.  After setting up a quick mock battle with some BS rules, I found that the 50 Action Point system was, while flexible, difficult to follow and overly complicated.  I’ve fallen back to an earlier idea, where characters receive 5 Actions per round rather than the 50 AP.  It’s a lot smoother and easier to follow.  I didn’t like giving up the power-design flexibility, or the on-the-fly redefinition of maneuvers, but I feel that the sacrifice is a small one to gain a much larger measure of ease-of-use.

More to follow; I think I may post States in the near future.

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.

The Saga Continues

Which is a really dumb name for this post, but I wanted to share that I have worked on the Actions system off and on all day (at work… probably not the best idea, now that I look back on it).

Actions is basically the turn-order side of conflict resolution, providing a basic framework for who does what when, how much a given character can do on their turn, and so on.

At any rate, I’ve defined Maneuvers – a set of  abilities possessed by most/all characters that allow them to perform basic actions in and out of combat.  this includes things like Movement, making Basic Attacks in combat, and using skills during a conflict.

In any case, defining these abilities has forced me to think about several other things that I didn’t expect to have to deal with, and made me question a few of my earlier assumptions about how other systems in the game worked… so, in short, it’s been a confusing but productive day, and it’s not over yet…

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