Chad Perrin: SOB

23 June 2008

Character Progression in Elements Eight

Filed under: RPG — apotheon @ 04:29

This is part of my RPG series of entries here at SOB. See the inaugural entry in the series for more details.

In Character Progression Systems in RPGs, I discussed some of the problems with a linearly quantified system of power progression in roleplaying games such as D&D. One of the comments that SOB entry received was from someone calling himself Shackleton, who is apparently developing a new game called Elements Eight. I don’t know much about it at this point aside from the fact that it appears to be intended as an alternative to D&D for fantasy roleplaying games.

Since Shackleton is using Blogspot for the Elements Eight development Weblog, and I find the comment interface for Blogspot odious, I’ll just have to post any comments I have (and consider interesting enough to bother sharing with my readers) here. In response to Shackleton’s comments on character progression in Elements Eight: it sounds like an interesting system. I recommend reading that before reading the rest of this. I’m not going to rehash everything he said.

It definitely has the potential to solve some — maybe many — of the problems of a linear power progression system. It seems to have many of the same benefits in that regard as something involving a superhero system where the sort of thing a player can improve with experience points (or whatever your game system calls it) isn’t the primary factor in resolving most conflicts in the game. Namely, it allows for a primary progression mechanic that doesn’t really change the balance of power in the game, in general. Rather than getting better at everything, to varying degrees, a character simply has strengths and weaknesses.

The strengths and weaknesses in the E8 system that serve as the primary focus of character progression, however, are more dynamic than in a superhero game — which lends the game a very different flavor. Depending on how things are handled, it might even allow for a character to be stronger in melee combat in one game session, and stronger as a spellcaster in another. It also allows for more direct control, by the player, over the success of heroic actions while still allowing for the possibility of failure in conflicts.

The reason it could work, but works so differently from a typical superhero game’s system, is that it actually provides for meaningful progression of the character stats (called “Gifts”) that comprise the primary deciding factor in challenging conflicts — but they’re statistics that get spent, rather than merely used as the basis of a roll. Normally, I find spent character stats (fate points, et cetera) to be more trouble than they’re worth, because of the difficult decision-making involved in deciding how best to use them. Using that kind of character stat serve as a very commonly used, commonly replenished bit of leverage in conflict resolution solves that problem somewhat, though. You can husband your resources, hedging against later need, but you don’t have to agonize over whether or not you’ll need your Gift points more later when you find you need them now. If you really need it, use it — because you’ll still have more later (unless you’ve just been spending these points like water, which might suggest you should avoid carrying a credit card).

Perhaps even more interestingly, this system implies some interesting things about how magic works. That magic system makes some decisions for you about the flavor of your gameworld, I think, but so too does the standard magic system for D&D — so that’s not really a problem in and of itself. In fact, every single decision made in the construction of a game system has consequences for the flavor of any campaigns run using that system. As such, you should understand that my comment about the fact that the way the magic system affects the flavor of your gameworld isn’t a complaint. It’s just something to be aware of, to consider when choosing a system to use for your game. As a result of that, E8 isn’t really a replacement for D&D or Pathfinder RPG (the latter of which, on the other hand, is actually a D&D-replacement). Because of similar “flavor” effects, I’ve never really put much stock in the “Universal” claim in GURPS.

The magic system implied by the progression system for E8 sounds like an incredibly interesting system. Depending on how E8 handles the in-game assumptions behind why Gifts work the way they do, it might even be a system that provides for a much more effective suspension of disbelief than the standard D&D magic system. Because of the largely arbitrary way magic tends to work in D&D, it’s always tempting to replace the magic system — but it’s also very difficult to usefully modify it (while maintaining some game balance, especially) because of the complexity of the system and its relationship with the rest of the game. If Shackleton has done a good job of doing that for us, that’s a heck of a positive recommendation for E8.

In theory, it sounds great. I don’t know enough about how the game will be put together to be able to make any final determination about how I think the Gift system would work in E8. The reference to modifiers based on character stats for normal, non-Gifts task accomplishments being unlikely to ever progress past a +5 bonus does kind of concern me, though. There may be some unreality involved in that, too, unless Shackleton has some ideas up his sleeve in terms of how to smoothly handle cases where things should be particularly easy for one character and particularly difficult for another in the general case because of skill level variations.

I have some vague plans for discussing such things in relation to D&D- and Pathfinder-like RPGs in a future entry here at SOB, but I guess you’re going to have to wait. I don’t think I’ll be writing that today.


  1. Thanks again for the very useful commentary.

    Regarding the maximum +5 bonus on a d20 roll, I should explain a little further. Said bonus is only the bonus acheived from “levelling up”. The difference between a highly skilled character and an average character is considerable, but is set at character creation.

    I’m not sure exactly, but the maximum achievable bonus over an averagely skilled character is probably something like +20 (roughly +10 at character creation, +5 from advancement, +5 from magical items and other miscellaneous bonuses).

    That said, because of the way skills are done, it’s quite unlikely that someone would stack their resources in that way. A more realistic approximation would I guess be something like a highly developed character having a +15 bonus over average skill.

    Comment by Shackleton — 24 June 2008 @ 07:18

  2. I’m not sure exactly, but the maximum achievable bonus over an averagely skilled character is probably something like +20 (roughly +10 at character creation, +5 from advancement, +5 from magical items and other miscellaneous bonuses).

    On what is that (roughly) +10 at character creation based? Is that a “character class” derived modifier? I’m curious about how this system works. Also . . . I intend to write about open versus closed die roll systems in the near future. When I do so, I’d like you to comment on that with regard to your plans for the E8 system. I just have too much to say about the subject to bother trying to explain it here to couch my questions in the right context.

    That said, because of the way skills are done, it’s quite unlikely that someone would stack their resources in that way. A more realistic approximation would I guess be something like a highly developed character having a +15 bonus over average skill.

    That sounds more reasonable, within the framework of a d20 skill resolution system. I have some half-formed thoughts floating around in the back of my head on the subject of skill systems and how rolls are resolved, even aside from the matter of open versus closed die roll systems, but they’re not really clarified enough right now to discuss them in detail. Maybe that’ll be yet another essay for the future.

    Comment by apotheon — 24 June 2008 @ 09:44

  3. The next article I write will be on skills, which will explain in more detail, but here’s a summary for now…

    There are 5 Attributes (Strength, Fitness, Coordination, Intellect and Perception) and 5 Talents (Practical, Martial, Analytical, Emotional and Magical). Every skill is an attribute + a talent. For example, Jump skill is Fitness + Practical, Intimidate skill is Strength + Emotional.

    The average Talent is 5, and the average Attribute is 6, so average skill is 11.

    Methods of distribution of these Attributes and Talents may vary… The attributes tend to be a roll + a racial modifier, and Talents are assigned per class, but there’s nothing to stop anyone assigning their Talents how they wish.

    Of course, certain character concepts lend themselves to specialising in particular talents and attributes. So you might have an Attribute at character creation that’s 10 (or even a bit more after racial bonuses), and a Talent at character creation of 9. Now, if you consider a skill which is that Attribute + that Talent, you have a skill of 19 (or even a bit more with racial bonuses).

    The reason it’s done like this, by the way, is so that every conceivable skill can (in theory at least) be described by just 10 numbers, so you’re not having to go through and keep track of every single skill your character has. It works rather nicely.

    With regard to open and closed rolls, that’s actually something I haven’t considered… I suppose an open d20 roll might be a good idea. At the moment, I have something called “Consequences” when you roll a natural 10 or 20. A bit like a critical hit, but the Consequences are more interesting. For example, during melee combat the effect of the Consequence depends what weaponry you’re carrying… you might get an extra attack, or the attack might be immune to certain defences.. Or during magic, if you’re trying to counter a spell, if you get a Consequence instead of setting back the enemies spell you can alter it, sabotaging it.

    Anyway, these Consequences are beneficial and weaker characters can achieve them because it’s a natural roll; however, they also have to (be in the right situation / be clever enough) in order to take advantage of the Consequence.

    I look forward to reading your article. Food for thought!

    Comment by Shackleton1 — 24 June 2008 @ 11:09

  4. I forgot to mention, the reason why +10 at character creation (and thus +20 when you’re all beefed up with advancement and magic items).. the reason that’s not too realistic is that the skills are spread in such a way that it’s quite galling to abandon Talents. There isn’t really a dump stat in the same way as Charisma tends to be for D&D.

    You could conceivably abandon Analytical or Emotional talents if you were a fighter, but you’re really giving yourself an achilles heel because Analytical has one of the melee defences, resist confusion and resist illusion tied to it; and emotional has resist sleep, resist fear and resist charm tied to it.

    Comment by Shackleton1 — 24 June 2008 @ 11:19

  5. The more you tell me about the E8 system, the more I’m interested. It sounds quite well thought out. It seems unlikely that I’d be able to provide much better analysis than that, in general, without actually playtesting it at this point. It diverges too much from the “usual” way of doing things in fantasy roleplaying games to be able to make sight-unseen judgments of the effect it would have on game play, based solely on an academic understanding of the system involved.

    I have a question that’s been bothering me all along, though: Why is it called “Elements Eight”?

    Comment by apotheon — 24 June 2008 @ 02:01

  6. […] a comment I posted in the discussion that followed my Character Progression in Elements Eight entry, I hinted […]

    Pingback by Chad Perrin: SOB » Open Ended Rolls — 24 June 2008 @ 04:12

  7. The reason it’s called Elements Eight is twofold.

    Firstly, the magic revolves around eight major elements (although there are other more minor elements).

    Secondly, much of the background I use concerns the impact that the eight major elements had upon the world. Largely, the world is more mundane, and religions concerning the Elements Eight are mostly forgotten or outlawed. But I like the idea that there are these entities, some malevolent, others less so, but all of them quite self interested. They’re out there even now, planning their next move in the great game of supremacy they play… The Prince of Flame broods in great caverns beneath the surface… The Lady of the Wood licks her wounds… The Lord of the Pale awaits the return of his kin… the Lord of the High plots to seal the Silver Gate forever… The Prince of Stone mourns the passing of his sire… The Princess of Sky conspires with Helmothicus, the Great Drake… The Princess of Sea tries to stem the flow of waters through the Cauldron that threatens her very existence…

    One day, when I get around to it, I’ll write an article about the (totally optional) background.

    Comment by Shackleton1 — 25 June 2008 @ 01:32

  8. Thanks for the explanation. The background material sounds pretty interesting so far, too.

    Comment by apotheon — 25 June 2008 @ 10:15

  9. It does sound like an interesting system, too bad I don’t live around anyone who might be interested in play testing.

    Comment by Joseph A Nagy Jr — 28 June 2008 @ 03:02

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