Wow. Elemental is yet another attempt at a ‘generic-universal-any genre-any type of character game’. What makes it unusual is that it works.
The “Discovery Guide” (and reviews) impressed me enough to get the softcover print version of this book when it was a ‘deal of the day’ recently. The PDF priced was reduced but the print version didn’t seem to be reduced. I would have bought it earlier if it had been.
The book is beautiful, very well illustrated, with excellent use of coloring in the very clean and readable fonts. It is also remarkably free of spelling and grammar errors. Thank you for that.
But most impressive are the rules themselves which are quickly explained in the first 19 pages. No stupid “flavor text”, no time-wasting ‘What is roleplaying?’, just straight forward, but not dry, “this is how you play this game”. Very refreshing, reminiscent of the classic Traveller in its utility and clarity.
Logical, specific without being tedious, this game is ready to play immediately and yet will ‘stay in the background’ by being easy to remember and easy to run.
Also appreciated is some specifically helpful ideas on HOW to run the game, who should roll when, what amount and type of modifiers you should use, when to add complications, what to do if you can’t think of any, etc. Even a brief discussion of social interaction rolls. This type of information is almost NEVER in the actual rule book, and yet critically important skills to running a good game.
This is a d6 only, largely 1d6 system with straight forward difficulty numbers, skills, flaws, critical hits/fumbles and point allocation. GURPs done right basically. Or OneDice if it was compiled into one book.
But it also does several things to keep the rules simple, like modifiers and penalties max out at +3/-3 and exploding dice are limited to only 1 additional roll. All the benefits with none of the minutia.
If any of the above turns you off, you probably wont like this system. It’s a minimalist system, but not a hand-wavy system.
There are touches I like that I’ve never seen in ANY system, such as successive characters after your first are built on a lower point total, some skills are given descriptions of how they are used by animals/monsters and even vehicles.
It’s not perfect of course. Stat Checks have a rather strange difference in that they roll low instead of rolling high. In keeping with it’s “cut-to-the-chase” style, there are very few examples, making it so that you’d better remember what an attribute roll is compared to a Stat Check if you want to figure out how damage works. Nothing fatal, but may initially require some flipping back and forth.
Powers are given two pages here, though really, they are talking about “Arcane Powers”, i.e. spells. It gives a rough outline of casting time, range, duration, concentration, rituals and innate (magical) powers.
Skills are remarkably comprehensive and yet brief (65 skills, 11 pages, but many can be thought of as ‘talents/feats’ such as Aquatic, Battle Rage and Lucky). It also includes nice specifics such as not being able to attempt certain actions without a skill.
There are also some very wise rulings on only allowing a certain number of uses of some skills per ‘game session’ making them much more strategically valuable. The skills also make it very clear when one skill is applicable rather than another, making them argument free rules.
Flaws are a pretty good deal at 1 character point per level of Flaw (maximum 3), but they are balanced by all of them being given specific game effects that means the flaw is unlikely to be avoided. Even the typically problematic ones such as Addiction and Code of Honor. There might be some possible abuse with Flashbacks or Greed, but by and large they all seem pretty severe and there are few enough of them (19 flaws, 2 pages) that they are not necessary unless they are truly part of a player character conception rather than just ‘free points’.
Equipment has got a good selection of weapons (two types of clubs, four types of swords, 5 types of maces, flintlock, musket and blunderbuss).
Armor is treated fine, as light, medium and heavy but there is not even a nod to partial or mixed armor. Nor any kind of reflective, ablative or armor with life support.
Though I definitely deduct points for not giving anything a monetary cost - which makes no sense since under Followers it gives amounts for how much gold or dollars they expect to be paid. You either leave money to the GM or you don’t.
The Gamemaster guide follows. It’s not particularly bad advice, though I notice some of the more “modern” conceits that give bad advise on top of the bad advice the authors were given.
For example “For instance, you might come up with an interesting reward (e.g. a magic sword) but rather than defining where it is and how to find it, you can let the party “find” it if you feel they’ll need it for the next encounter - or you simply want to reward them for a fine performance.”
Is there anyone out there that doesn’t know that as a “railroad”?
Creatures are given an XP value however, which I also think should be genre specific - unless every game is about killing.
Fantasy starts with “Archetypes” which are usually called ‘templates’ in other games. A set of skills and suggestions for purchasing that aren’t required, but merely suggestions on the kind of things that type of character could have. Races are typical; Dwarf, Elf, Halfling, Human, Dragonfolk, Gnome, Half-Elf, Half-Orc, Fiendling.
Then ‘class’ archetypes; Barbarian, Bard, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Monk, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue, Sorcerer, Warlock and Wizard. The only really odd thing about it is how many spells are suggested. Could a beginning character really start with that many spells? If there is something I’m not understanding, I’m laying it straight on the text.
The spell list starts next and rather than spell ‘levels’ each spell is rated by its Difficult in casting from 0 to 9. And it’s pretty impressive at 38 pages. And it seems to have just the right mix of style and utility. It seems magical and unique, as spell should. Nothing particularly surprising, but some neat spells I haven’t seen before also. It even includes a spell for making magic items.
Magic Items have one page devoted to them. It seems to imply that most all magic items (except Artifacts) have ‘charges’ and that the magic is gone once those charges are used up. It works, but I’m not sure making most magic items ‘disposable’ is a good ‘generic’ way to deal with them. There are 4 magic item examples. Count ‘em. 4. Strangely enough they are followed by 4 example artifacts. Also, there are no costs in money or XP associated with these items.
The Monster section is much better. Much like the spell section are typical monsters, and non-typical interesting monsters. Unfortunately they are not all illustrated. And the ones that are...well I’d be much more interested in an illustration of a “Behir” than that a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Of course, monsters are mostly of the D&D variety. And the descriptions are very sparse. But also like the spells, they weren’t chintzy about it at 27 pages.
The Horror section starts off with a list of archetypes based on typical ‘horror’ characters (and 5 monsters). The Sanity rules are next. So by ‘typical’ I guess I mean ‘Call of Cthulhu’. But the Sanity rules are pretty simple and workable - players will fear it, but it won’t cripple them.
Then they add Corruption, an optional rule that can serve as “the Dark Side” or “the Eye of Sauron”. Clever and simple.
Another cool spell section. Another Monster section follows. A few monsters are given entries like “Spells: Yes; GM’s choice” or “Sometimes, GM’s discretion” which is annoying as hell. It’s ALWAYS GM’s choice. I’m not paying you to tell me that. I’m paying you to MAKE THE CHOICES and if I don’t like them I’ll change them.
The Science Fiction section is next with a 9 archetypes. The Weapon section follows and doesn’t disappoint. Armor, Vehicles, Mecha and Spaceships also comes out well with enough to satisfy most gaming needs. A brief mention is also made of Cybernetics.
Psionic powers gets a full listing as well and even at 6 pages seems very complete and well done.
Pulp & Superheroes is the next section. The first decision is that when a character has superpowers they are tied to a particular stat - just like a skill. That’s not surprising. But what IS surprising is that all Superpowers must have their appropriate attribute at 4 or more (Very High). This sort of makes sense. I mean, the power might be pretty weak if you had it for a low attribute. You are told to come up with one “super” weakness and given a few (obvious) examples. It also gives various point ranges for “Pulp”, “Comic Book” or “Cosmic” heroes. Then 12 pages of powers (55 powers).
Well, it does what it says on the tin. It provides a fast-paced rules light, but detailed and sturdy set of RPG rules that could pretty much do most of the common RPG genres. Is it spectacular and able to instantly replace all other games? No. But it’s very, very good, and if you were in the market for a ‘universal’ game it’s a lot better than than most ‘mainstream’ games of this type.
I could name on one hand with fingers left over the number of games I would play immediately and without needing house rules to ‘fix’. This is now one of those games.