Willow's review of Elthos ODS rules

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Willow's review of Elthos ODS rules

Postby Tim_Jensen on Mon Mar 23, 2009 9:17 pm

I showed the Elthos ODS rules to the most brutal game reviewer I know, my girlfriend Willow.

Willow has written several roleplaying systems and has actually played or run between 50 and 75 different roleplaying games, by our estimation. What she has to say is rather harsh, so I wanted to warn you in advance. It is not an issue of Elthos being the type of roleplaying game she would like to play, because she has enjoyed running several editions of D&D and similar games, including the two 4e campaigns she is running right now. In regards to her evaluation of Elthos ODS,I have to say that I agree with her on every major point.

My own evaluation is coming, but in the meantime I decided to post a link to John Harper's Ghost/Echo on the LRPGSW list as an example of a roleplaying game that shares most of the Elthos ODS's stated goals, but goes about achieving them in a fundamentally different manner.

So, without further comment or any editing, here is Willow's evaluation of Elthos ODS:


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Review of the Elthos One Die System

First impression: I have never seen such a complicated system designed for simplicity.

I suspect this arises from a chaotic design principle, resulting from pursuing too many design goals at once. We have the pressure for “simplicity,” the pressure for “story,” the unmentioned but often present desire for “realism,” whatever that is, the desire to design a tactical combat system, and the like.

The introduction claims “Ultimately Elthos is a Story Game. It is about the Players and Gamesmaster as a group creating Great Story via the game-actions of their Characters within the context of a fascinating Adventure, and the ODS Rules are designed to enable story-focused gaming by being ultra-light weight. ” Sadly, this is false.

ODS is not a light weight engine. Here are some examples of light weight engines: the Mountain Witch, where both players roll a single d6, higher roll wins, margin of victory determines level of success. Wushu, the more cool descriptions you make, the more dice you get, and high die rolls do damage to your opponent or defend yourself. MAID, where you roll a d6 and multiply by your skill and go against a target number.

Compared to these, ODS's core rules are bulky. You compare your skill to a Target Number, roll a die, reference a chart, and determine if it's a success. (Or use the formula, Skill – Difficultly + 4 is what you need to roll.) It's one die roll, but it's an unneeded step of complexity. Modern editions of D&D, with the d20 system, roll and add mods, is simpler at it's core than that.

I suppose it might be simple for tasks like picking locks. Relatively speaking.

Combat looks like a complete nightmare. Like D&D or HERO without the fun. There's no simplicity here. There is no ultra lightness.

You know how the Mountain Witch handles a conflict? Each guy rolls a die. Higher roll wins, and gets to injure his opponent. If both guys want to keep fighting, you keep fighting.

You know how Wushu handles a conflict? You make a lot of cool narrations and stunts, earn a bunch of dice, and those get you your successes. Narration is basically a pacing mechanism- most fights or conflicts require a certain number of successes to complete.

You know how MAID handles a conflict? Each person rolls a die, and then the loser goes off and cries.

These are ultra-lightweight combat systems.

Even by the yardstick of traditional games, ODS combats aren't lightweight. Savage Worlds has stats and skills and more dice and poker chips and cards and charts, but you know what, it's not a concrete block of tables like this. Positional Armor Class Adjustment? Excuse me? Just call it Facing. There's a simple name for you. This combat system has got too many steps to embrace simplicity. It's clear that what's going on here is an attempt to create a marginally lighter D&D. Whether it succeeds is arguable.

Let's talk about Story, because the introduction seems to think the game is about this. Other than two paragraphs in the GM's section that barely manage to address the idea of story and it's presence, the game does nothing to acknowledge the idea that story is dominant. Where are the rules or suggestions for crafting stories? Why aren't things like theme or plot discussed? For that matter, what does the game consider a story to be? This seems like a platitude. In a 29 page game where 8 pages are about combat, 2 pages are charts for combat, another page is house rules for combat, 4 pages is for character creation (most of which is about combat), and your primary experience is named “Kill Experience”, you've written a short combat engine. Not a game about story.

And back to character creation. This is a mess. This races table is ambiguous. Are these player character races, monsters, or both? Human is there, Dwarf and Elf are there Horse is there, Wraith is there, and Elkron is there. Elkrons look pretty cool, can I play one of them? How do you decide what I can play and what I can't? Where are the rules for the elf's Ultra Healing and Spells? If I play a Goblin, does my “Fierce” actually have game effects? The stats specified don't seem to actually modify my final stats, since I roll and assign. In fact, the only thing the race table seems to explicitly effect is max level and Movement speed. Make sure you don't play a Dwarf!

Requisites? You named Stats Requisites? That's like White Wolf level of renaming stuff.
Also, you suck unless you don't have 6s.

Adventuring Classes are pretty blah. Clearly derived from the basic D&D big four, and a random multiclass guy.

Anyway, skill charts based on classes. Does gambling really have to be a skill? Is it an important part of your game? Is three kinds of fighting skill really needed? Why Pick Pockets and not a broader thiefy/dextrous skill?

What's nice:

I really like the Gamemaster's Encounters Creation Mini-Guide. It encourages the GM to think of a Situation- what is happening, why is it happening, ways the players might encounter the problem, and what happens next. It's a single page, and something that doesn't seem to get attention elsewhere, but this is the key to play right here.

There's a damn good looking index. Too few games have indexes, and for a draft of a game in development to have one, that's not just good, it's awesome.
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Re: Willow's review of Elthos ODS rules

Postby vbwyrde on Mon Mar 23, 2009 9:49 pm

First off, let me say thank you very kindly Willow for spending the time to look at the Elthos ODS. I really appreciate it, despite the brutality of your review, no offense intended of course.

Instead of trying to take a point by point analysis of your analysis I will simply make a few points and let it go at that.

1) Elthos ODS currently is, as you notice, in Draft form.

2) The Introduction refers to the (eventual) up and coming Elthos World Weaving Guide which deals with the setting which embodies the story aspect of the game.

3) You are right in pointing out that this is D&D light. Originally when I created the game system in 1978 (granted a larger more complete system of which the ODS is a distillation for the purposes of the LRPGSW), it was intended to correct what I considered to be some flaws in the original D&D Edition 1 rules. I've been playing the Elthos system ever since, although the ODS version of that system was created in 2006, and more or less finalized recently.

So I also agree with most of your points. However, I can say that those who have played the game so far have enjoyed it, and the Elthos Prime system (the original system), has had many players in the past 30 years who have enjoyed it quite a bit.

That said, I want to thank you again. I'd also like to ask, although i suppose it's a bit much, if you wouldn't mind actually just trying it out sometime to see how it actually plays out. I'm wondering if once played some of your objections might either be clarified or at least mitigated.

And once more, thank you again Willow. Your forthright and blunt honesty is respected and appreciated.

Sincerely,
Mark
* Aspire to Inspire *

Literary Role Playing Game Society of Westchester: http://games.groups.yahoo.com/group/LRPGSW

Elthos RPG Website: http://www.elthos.com

Elthos RPG Blog: http://ElthosRPG.blogspot.com
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