7 Element Resolution

Strong wins

Fire burns Wood grows from Earth muddies Water rusts Metal cleaves Air fills Void smothers Fire.

Weak wins

Fire melts Metal chops Wood bends in Air weathers Earth endures Void freezes Water douses Fire

Expanded 7 element associations

Fire Wood Earth Water Metal Air Void
color Red Green Brown Blue Black White Yellow
planet Mars Jupiter Saturn Mercury Moon Venus Sun
metal Copper Tin Lead Mercury Iron Silver Gold
weather Heat Sunny Wind Rain Thunder Fog Snow
animal Phoenix Unicorn Serpent Dolphin Tiger Hawk Dragon
voice Laugh Sing Chant Cry Scream Whisper Silence
trait Passion Patience Determination Elegance Focused Subtle Calm
flaw Reckless Detached Stubborn Vague Unsophsticated Uncentered Unimaginative
virtue Compassion Kindness Loyalty Dignity Righteous Knowledge Faith
fortune Longevity Fertility Wealth Respect Truth Freedom Authority
punish Branded Hanged Fined Shunned Blinded Prison Exiled
direction South East Down North Up West Center
organ Heart Genitals Stomach Blood Spine Lungs Eyes

Choosing Fire means that you're trying to solve the problem by acting on it with a lot of vigor and energy. (For example, if you're searching a room, you run all over it, overturn furniture, throw the contents out of drawers, etc.)

Choosing Water means that you're trying to solve the problem with precision and elegance. (For example, if we're swordfighting, you try for a single thrust to the heart for a clean kill.)

Choosing Wood means that you're trying to solve the problem through patience and understanding. (For example, if you're doing forensic work, you avoid making any conclusions until all the results are back, then try and discard hypotheses until you get everything exactly right).

Choosing Earth means that you're trying to solve the problem through brute determination and basic principles. (For example, if you're racing cars, you slam the pedal to the floor and don't let off until the end of the race).

Choosing Air means that you're trying to solve the problem through subtle or unorthodox means. (For example, if you're trying to sneak around, you throw some rocks over to another part of the area to distract attention).

Choosing Metal means your're trying to solve the problem by direct and straightforward action. (For example, if you're trying to win an arguement, you do not beat around the bush or making leading statements, but get straight to the point, relying on the correctness of your position).

Choosing Void means you're trying to solve the problem with faith and a confidence. (For example, if you're trapped in a cave in, you calmly and rationally begin looking for a way out, without panicking).

Original Version


Epoch (Mike Sullivan) 08/27/01 11:53 AM

A somewhat evolved game from the "numberless" thread of a while back. Tell me what you think -- I worry that it's too confusing.

There's a ro-sham-bo circle of five items. I'm currently using the Chinese elements, just because it's a conveniant set of 5.

That's fire, water, earth, wood, and metal, for those of you counting at home.

They're arranged in a circle like this:

Water --> Fire --> Metal --> Wood --> Earth --> Water

(That's "water douses fire melts metal cuts wood consumes earth dams water," for those of you wondering why they're in that order)

Okay, so play goes like this: For task resolution, two parties choose an element each.

Now, there three possibilities here:

1. The two parties choose the same element, leading to a tie.

2. One person chooses an element that's only one "step" away from the other. In that case, one player has a "strong" win. Water is a strong win against Fire, for example, and Earth is a strong win against Water.

3. On person chooses an element that's two steps away from the other. In that case, one player has a "weak" win. Water is a weak win against Metal, and Wood is a weak win against Water.

So, now character skill comes into play.

An attribute or skill can potentially be labeled with descriptors for each element. An element can be universally weak, or it can be strongly active, reactive, or both.

So my stealth skill might be: Weak Water, Active Earth, Active Wood, Reactive Metal

Whereas your perception attribute could be: Active Fire, Reactive Earth, Weak Wood

How do these things work? They modify the result that you get from the ro-sham-bo game. First, you decide who the "active" party is and who the "reactive" party is (in certain cases, you might say that they're both active or both reactive). If you're active, and you chose an element that you've got an active descriptor for, you get an advantage. Furthermore, if your opponent chose an element that you're reactive in, you get an advantage. And, finally, if you choose an element you're weak in, your opponent gets an advantage. Reverse the above if you're reactive and your opponent's active. Advantages cancel each other -- if I'm getting three advantages and you're getting two, then the net result is that I get one advantage. (You can have 0 to 3 advantages at any given time).

Finally, we get back to the elements. If one person has a "strong win," then they are succesful in their task as long as their opponent didn't have two or more advantages. Otherwise, it's a tie.

If one person has a "weak win," then if they have at least one advantage, they're succesful. Otherwise, it's a tie.

If the two parties tied, then if one person has two or more advantages, he wins. Otherwise, it's a tie.

So, an example, using the above parties (I have Weak Water, Active Earth, Active Wood, Reactive Metal, you have Active Fire, Reactive Earth, Weak Wood). I'm trying to sneak past you.

I'm the active party here. Let's say that I don't know anything about your elements. I'll choose Wood, because I've got Active Wood.

You're the reactive party. If you don't know anything about me, you'll probably choose Earth, because it's your Reactive element.

So, Wood strongly beats Earth. We both get one advantage (which cancel) because we choose our respective strengths. I don't have reactive Earth, and you don't have Active wood, so neither of us gets any additional advantages. So I sneak past you.

Let's suppose, however, that you chose Metal instead of Earth, perhaps because you know me, and know that I like to use Wood. Now, you've got the strong win. However, I've got Active Wood (one advantage), and reactive Metal (two advantages). You don't have any advantages. So, since I have two advantages, I reduce your win to a tie. We could interpret that in game as I wasn't seen, but you get nervous and start looking for me.

Now you're the active party. Let's say that you choose Fire. I'm the reactive party, and I choose Metal. Unfortunately for me, Fire beats Metal, and our advantages cancel, so you find me.

Okay. So that's all very abstract, all this elemental jiggery. However, I think the system comes into a much sharper focus if you associate each element with a style of trying to resolve a problem. For example, you might say that:

Choosing Fire means that you're trying to solve the problem by acting on it with a lot of vigor and energy. (For example, if you're searching a room, you run all over it, overturn furniture, throw the contents out of drawers, etc.)

Choosing Metal means that you're trying to solve the problem with precision and elegance. (For example, if we're swordfighting, you try for a single thrust to the heart for a clean kill.)

Choosing Wood means that you're trying to solve the problem through persistance and understanding. (For example, if you're doing forensic work, you avoid making any conclusions until all the results are back, then try and discard hypotheses until you get everything exactly right).

Choosing Earth means that you're trying to solve the problem through brute force and basic principles. (For example, if you're racing cars, you slam the pedal to the floor and don't let off until the end of the race).

Choosing Water means that you're trying to solve the problem through subtle or unorthodox means. (For example, if you're trying to sneak around, you throw some rocks over to another part of the area to distract attention).

This gives us a powerful way to tie character abilities to personality/role, and to differentiate between personal styles, even if there are no game-play effects of the style whatsoever.

It also means that the GM can play to the stylistic choice. For example, suppose that there's a static problem, like a lock that needs picking. The GM decides that the lock is subtle and tricky, so, when it's contesting the lockpicker, it always picks Water. Thus, a particular approach pays off against it, and others don't.

Well, that's basically it. Is it worthwhile to pursue this concept?


Re: Elemental Gaming Memento-Mori (Jared Sorensen) 08/27/01 10:17 PM

Good stuff, Mike.

A favor from me: put some simple examples down of character creation, how the system works and how you'd a) use a sword b) pick a lock and c) woo a lover using each element. jared a. sorensen

memento mori theatricks indie game design from beyond the grave


Re: Elemental Gaming GreatWolf? (Seth Ben-Ezra) 08/28/01 10:09 AM

Floats my boat. I'm starting to appreciate systems that tell me not just what the character did but how he did it. I'd be interested in seeing this developed a bit more.

Seth Ben-Ezra Great Wolf Dark Omen Games


Re: Elemental Gaming Epoch (Mike Sullivan) 08/28/01 12:52 PM

I have what I think is a neat concept for character creation.

Everybody starts with, uh, call it either a soul or a personal style, depending on what the genre of the game is. It's one weakness in an element, and two strengths (active or reactive, your choice). That's your default for the rest of your skills.

Example: I'm making my character, a samurai analog. I'm generally young and brash, prone to getting in over my head. I choose to have a weakness in water, representing my youthful lack of subtlety. My strengths are Active Fire, because I'm enthusiastic and energetic about getting what I want, and Reactive Earth, because when I'm confronted with a problem, I tend to hunker down, go for base principles, and push forward. Now take some number of strenths and apply them to a make-it-up-as-you-go skill list. ("Skills" could potentially be things which are more traditionally attributes.) Each skill starts off as the same template as your base attributes, and you can spend a strength to buy off your general weakness in this particular skill, or to buy an additional strength. You can also buy weaknesses in a skill and get additional strengths because of them.

Example: My samurai needs skills. My GM has declared that I get 10 strengths, and has suggested that I take fairly broad skills. So, first off, I obviously need to be a swordsman if I'm a samurai. I decide that I'm not phenomenal, but pretty good, and put three strengths into my sword skill (the GM later tells me to just call it my "combat" skill) -- I buy off my weakness in Water, and then buy Active Wood (which is a good representation of having a solid foundation in fencing -- I understand basically what to do, and can get there given time) and Reactive Fire (because I'm very quick on the defense). I decide I want to be a really good rider, because I come from a frontier family that spends a lot of time on horseback. I put a rather impressive 5 strengths into Horseback riding. Again, I buy off my Water weakness, then I buy Active Metal, Active Water, Reactive Fire, and Active Wood. I'm down to just two strengths, but I definitely need an ettiquette/courtliness skill as a nobleman. However, I'm kind of a young hick, and I realize that I'll probably have some failings there. So I buy a Metal weakness in courtliness, and use that to get Active Earth (my basic good-heartedness is an advantage, as I come across as sincere, even though I don't know the forms or the subtlties). And, just as a lark, I decide to get two other skills -- Hawking, which I take an Active Wood in, and Farming, which I take Reactive Metal in. My character is now defined as so:

Template/Soul?: Active Fire, Reactive Earth, Weak Water

Combat: Active Fire, Active Wood, Reactive Fire, Reactive Earth

Equestrian: Active Fire, Active Metal, Active Water, Active Wood, Reactive Fire, Reactive Earth

Courtliness: Active Fire, Active Earth, Reactive Earth, Weak Water, Weak Metal

Hawking: Active Fire, Active Wood, Reactive Earth, Weak Water

Farming: Active Fire, Reactive Earth, Reactive Metal, Weak Water Okay, so, combat. I basically think that one person, I'm not sure how this is chosen, gets to attack. If they win, they do damage. If there's a tie, then they don't do damage, but can continue to press the attack. If they lose, then the other person can start to attack -- this gives a sort of back and forth feeling to the combat.

Example:

I challenge a haughty samurai to a duel because he insulted me. I know that he studied from the Marumoto school of sword fighting, and that they tend to emphasize very traditional attacks (Active Wood) and quick defenses (Reactive Fire). I'm sure that he has some personal elements of style as well. Aside from that, I don't know anything about him.

He draws first, and gets to attack first.

The GM asks me how I'm defending. I figure that he'll probably attack with his Active Wood, so I defend using Metal.

It turns out that he did, in fact, use Active Wood to attack. So, my Reactive Metal beats his Wood. Now, he has a strength in Active Wood and a Strength in Reactive Metal, so he potentially has two advantages, which could overturn even my good choice of defenses. However, I have a strength in Active Wood (his attack form), so I cancel one of his advantages and I win the engagement. That means I get to counterattack.

I decide to just use my Active Fire to attack, because I'm good at it. He uses Reactive Earth to defend, which is somewhat good for him, because Earth beats Fire (weakly). However, I've got a strength not only in Active Fire, but also Reactive Earth, and he only has a strength in Reactive Earth. So he only manages to tie me, and I get to press the attack.

I figure that he'll probably convert to a Reactive Water defense to better handle my Active Fire, so I go to Active Earth. This is dangerous, because I don't have a strength in Active Earth. But my gamble pays off. He uses a Reactive Water defense. Though he has a strength in Active Earth, it's not enough to prevent me from cutting him! Picking a lock would be an example of a static challenge. In that, the GM notes down which things the lock is and isn't, and it always chooses the same strategy (which means that you can usually beat it with some persistance).

Example:

I know nothing about picking locks, but I need to get past one and quickly, so I hunker down and give it a try. Because I don't have a skill which covers this, I use my base template (Active Fire, Reactive Earth, Weak Water). The GM decides that this is a simple, straightforward lock that can be beaten by persistance. It has a strength in Reactive Wood, and it always chooses Reactive Wood. I choose Active Fire, because it's my only Active Strength. I've got a weak win on the comparison, but its strength cancels mine, leaving me with a tie. No progress. I tell my companions to keep holding off the bad guys, and I try again. This time, knowing more about the lock, I choose Active Metal. This beats the lock, even with its strength. If it had had a strength in Active Metal, however, there's no way I could have beaten it, no matter how long I took. Wooing someone is a pretty simple challenge, simply a matter of comparing traits appropriately. The GM might want to seperate it into stages if it's an important thing and not a lark.

Example:

I'm smitten with a lady of the Imperial Court and determined to win her heart. Before going on a hunting trip, I beg her for a token of her affection, using all the courtly language I know.

I've been told that the ladies of the court respond well to being sly and clever, so, because I'm kind of gullible, I choose to approach her with Active Water. This isn't a really bright move, since I'm weak in Active Water, but if she responds with Reactive Fire, it could still pay off for me.

Unfortunately, she's kind of a playful, bored lady, and she chooses to respond with Reactive Water. That's a base tie, and she has a strength in Reactive Water, while I have a weakness in Water. She wins the contest and just makes me feel both somewhat foolish and like I need to prove my worth to her.


Damage Epoch (Mike Sullivan) 08/31/01 5:14 PM

Okay, some random thoughts about damage:

1. How to rate it?

You could rate it by saying that every time you get a wound, you get a (temporary) Weakness in one Element (your wound prevents you from applying the necessary force to be effective at an Earth tactic, for example). When you get your 6th wound, you die or become unconscious.

Or you could just make a seperate wound scale, ablative or no. Perhaps after you cross a certain threshhold, you gain an automatic negative shift to any actions. Alternatively, I think there's a certain charm in the D&D method of "either you're conscious or your not, no varying states of incapacity" for certain genres.

2. How do you inflict it?

This is the big question. It seems silly to introduce a randomizer into the game at this stage. Equally, it seems silly to introduce an all-new mechanic.

You could simply do damage as a normal mechanic -- the person who won the attack contest starts a damage contest as the active party. Weapons or strength traits would be used to apply their positive modifiers (a sword might have Active Metal to represent its sharp edge, and Reactive Wood to reflect its particular abilities in terms of piercing armor. A maul, on the other hand, might have Active Earth to represent its brute power, and Reactive Earth to represent the futility to trying to stand-strong against it). Armor and endurance traits would be used to apply the defender's modifiers. A "failure" to damage someone would indicate cosmetic damage only. A "tie" would indicate minor damage, and a "success" would be major damage, plus advantages (or something).

My problem with that is that it seems awfully involved for a damage mechanic.

The other way might be to base damage on the number of advantages you got over the amount necessary to win the attack contest. However, I'm not sure I really like the system turning into a "degrees of sucess" system -- I want to encourage jumping around the elemental scale, and that might be limited if you knew that not only would you be rated by whether or not you'd succeed, but by how much you succeeded or failed -- you'd be less likely to try risky manuevers.


Re: Damage M. J. Young (M. J. Young) 08/31/01 6:38 PM

Preferatory remarks:  I'm tired, and I'm not thinking clearly; and although I've read this entire thread, I'm too beat to go back and read it again, so I might be misremembering something.

  But here's a shot.

  I seem to recall that every character had a couple of strengths and at least one weakness.  If I'm remembering correctly, whenever someone was going to attack, they picked an element with which to attack, and the defender picked an element to defend. You didn't need a strength to use an element, but it gave you advantages; you could in theory defend with a weakness.

  What if damage worked by disabling?  Each time a character lost a defense, if he had a strength in that area it was negated thereafter, and if he had no strength (or his strength was disabled) he acquired a weakness?  Any character who had either no strengths or four weaknesses was incapacitated, no longer able to fight or take any other significant action.

  This would force characters to shift elements, as they would lose strengths and gain weaknesses during combat; it would also give you a damage system fully integrated into you core mechanic.

  Of course, as I say, I'm really not completely with it right now--there might be a hole in this big enough to fly a 747 through.  But maybe it will spark something else.

--M. J. Young

Check out Multiverser Index of my pages


Re: Damage Epoch (Mike Sullivan) 09/01/01 11:15 AM

That could work. My issue is that it, first, doesn't seem to allow for the possibility of variable damage or one-hit kills, and second, would be perhaps difficult to work differing weapon or strength-based damage into.

But there may be a modification to the system that would take those into account.


  We don't need no steenking damage, Stimpy GreatWolf? (Seth Ben-Ezra) 09/02/01 7:25 PM

Mike,

Why have a damage system at all? Amber doesn't have a damage mechanic. Everway doesn't have a damage mechanic. Alyria doesn't have a damage mechanic. (Hmm. Guess that only proves my personal bias. :-] )

IMHO the sort of gamer who would be attracted to this sort of system isn't going to care about a specified damage mechanic. Moreover, I don't think that the sorts of stories that would benefit from this mechanic would require a damage mechanic. For example, actually, this mechanic could be an interesting L5R hack, for reasons that I hope would be obvious. Tales of honor, valor, and courage don't really need a damage mechanic. Just run with what you have.

Seth Ben-Ezra Great Wolf Dark Omen Games


  Re: We don't need no steenking damage, Stimpy Epoch (Mike Sullivan) 09/03/01 5:52 PM

IMHO the sort of gamer who would be attracted to this sort of system isn't going to care about a specified damage mechanic. Besides me, you mean? Taking the advise of several people on this forum, I design for myself.

For example, actually, this mechanic could be an interesting L5R hack, for reasons that I hope would be obvious. Yes, though -- grrrrrrrr -- L5R uses a 4 element system instead of a 5 element one. That really bothers me, in case the bold-italics wasn't a hint.

Tales of honor, valor, and courage don't really need a damage mechanic. Bear in mind that I'm not a narrativist, nor even the broader dramatist.

More generally, I think that a robust mechanic like this is fatally weak without a damage mechanic. Amber, one of my other favorite games, gets by without one because, frankly, the resolution system is very prone to GM decides, and, to the extent that it matters at all, it doesn't govern single engagements of the blade. The 5 Element system is supposed to govern "attacks," rather than "fights in general," for the simple reason that it's a much more interesting mechanic when there's a repeated element to it.


Re: We don't need no steenking damage, Stimpy Memento-Mori (Jared Sorensen) 09/03/01 6:35 PM

I still don't get the active/reactive thing.

This would be great for a Shaw Brothers/Tsui? Hark-styled wuxia or mystic kung-fu game...but I'd incorporate the elemental system into the in-game in-character jargon.

"Haha, your weak Fire attack is no match for my superior Water!"

That kinda stuff.

BTW, The Musketeer and Iron Monkey. 'Nuff said.

jared a. sorensen

memento mori theatricks indie game design from beyond the grave


  Re: We don't need no steenking damage, Stimpy Epoch (Mike Sullivan) 09/03/01 8:40 PM

Okay, active/reactive:

First, you don't need it. I put it in to have more "resolution" -- that is, to have a finer-grained system. If you want, replace Active Water or Reactive Fire with Strong Water or Strong Fire. A strength in an element gives you an advantage if you choose that element or if your opponent chooses that element, end of story.

But, if you do want the additional complexity:

In any given activity, you're behaving actively or reactively.

If you're attacking someone, you're being active.

If you're defending against an attack, you're being reactive.

If you're trying to seduce someone, you're being active.

If you're trying to pick a lock, you're being active.

If you're trying to lift a weight over your head, you're being active.

If you're trying to hold a weight in its current position, you're being reactive.

If you're trying to be generally polite for a dinner conversation, you're being reactive.

If you're attempting to be the center of conversation, you're being active.

Your "strong" elements only help you if they match your state of activeness or reactiveness, and your opponent's state of activeness/reactiveness.

So, if you're attacking with your sword (active), and your opponent's defending (reactive), and you choose fire and they choose earth:

If you have active Fire and reactive Earth, you get two advantages.

If you have reactive fire and active Earth, you get no advantages.

That clearer?