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:
- What exactly are Conditions?
- What are Elements?
- 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.