Saturday, September 14, 2013

A Summary of the Elements

A Summary of the Elements

Last Updated - (10/2/13): Added the BURDEN Frame. There are now 9.  

What follows is as much of a quick conceptual reference for the rules Elements that power the Tribute RPG as is possible. It's likely to appear in the playtest document's "Introduction to the Elements" chapter.

I've written this post as a future reference and a restatement of what I've been trying to get across in previous posts.I've gotten feedback that I needed to include more examples (in their own sections), and that having this information spread out made it harder to see the big picture. I've also tried to be more direct in my explanations.

I've left most mechanical detail out, but each Element's full write-up will have that information. As I put the full mechanical write-ups for each Element onto the blog, I'll change each one's name into a link to its page.  

Even not knowing the exact rules for the Elements, you should be able to use this page as a reference to write some basic Tribute Expressions if you're so inclined. Check out this article for more information on how to do it.

What are Elements?


  • Are the ingredients that you combine to create all in-game phenomena, from Powers and equipment to full characters. 
  • Each do one "thing" in terms of game mechanics. 
  • Each stand in for broad mechanical concepts so that each can be used in many different ways, without requiring exceptions to the rules for strange phenomena.

They are 34 words that...

  • Are simultaneously nouns and verbs so they can be used as either. 
  • Have rules attached to them that do most of the mechanical work of the game system. 
  • Are always written in all capital letters to draw the eye.

Categories of Elements

There are five types of Elements. There are three Attributes, nine Frames, seven Powers, twelve Functions, and three Scale Elements. 

Attributes are the qualities of Frames that help to determine how well their Effects work. They fill the role of traits like "Strength" or "Intelligence" in other systems, but in a more generalized way so they can be adapted to the needs of your game. Each has its own mechanical behavior, and governs (provides the ability to use) four Functions and a single Scale Element. You can name specific instances of them for your campaign, but you don't need to. Attributes are Ranked on a logarithmic scale. 

Frames are containers for Powers, Attributes, and other Frames that help to define  their meaning and origins in the game world.  A Frame only needs a given Attribute if its Powers call for it and there is no other source of that Attribute available. They define things like the types of conflict that exist in a campaign, which types of energy a wizard can manipulate, and a character's motivations. Instances of Frames are always given a proper name (such as "Body") to allow Effects to reference them specifically. They each have a numerical Gauge that determines how well they do what they do.

Powers are containers for Effects and other contingent Powers. They give you the authority to deliver their contained Effects, and help define who or what they can Target when you deliver them. Tools are considered Powers, as is the power to attack or build. An individual Power should be given a name, such as "One Inch Punch". They have no Rank, and when one is required, they use the Ranks of the Effects they contain.

Functions are the building blocks of Effects. The cover (mostly) simple concepts like blocking or destroying. The Effects created with them have a Rank related to the Rank of their governing Attribute.

Scale Elements measure duration, the reach of Effects, and the area that an Effect can cover. Unlike other Elements, they can be used alone as a separate Feature in an Effect.

Element Lexicon

While you read the definitions below, please keep in mind that while they are used to model phenomena of a mostly concrete nature, they are also used to model conceptual or abstract phenomena as you need them to in your campaign.  


  • ACCESS: noun- The in-game right to interact with Targets, as would be achieved by detecting them, or by gaining entry into a Frame. The governing Attribute of the EXCHANGE, EXPLOIT, DODGE, and TRIGGER Functions, and the Scale Element REACH (doing any of these things is considered ACCESSing). verb- To gain the right to interact by any means. Examples: Perception, Dexterity, Neural implant, Shamanic initiation, Line of credit. 

  • COUNTER: noun- The ability to undo Effects in a Frame or to resist change. The governing Attribute of the BLOCK, BRACE, LINK, and SLICE Functions, and the Scale Element CYCLE. verb- To get rid of or reverse an Effect. Examples: Endurance, Sanity, Defiance, Insurance, Repair nanites. 

  • FORCE: noun- The ability to coerce or compel a result within a Frame, such as by lifting a heavy object in the game world. The governing Attribute of the CHARGE, HARNESS, RELAY, and VOID Functions, and the Scale Element SPREAD. verb- To coerce or compel. Examples: Strength, Intelligence, Willpower, Presence, Amperage, Leverage.

  • BOND: noun- An attitude towards an entity, place, or thing (or a group of such Targets) that grants the Effects of its Powers when it comes into play, and which can make actions taken when the Target is relevant more or less reliable . verb- To form such a link to a Target. Examples: Love, Hatred, Fear, Respect, Honor, Attunement to a device, Faith in a deity, Patriotism, Company loyalty, Team spirit. 

  • BURDEN: noun-A handicap, area of weakness, or situational modifier that makes using its contents less reliable. verb-To make an Effect less reliable. Examples: Math phobia, The sun in your eyes.

  • CHANNEL: noun- A bridge or vehicle for phenomena, useful for defining their interactions with other phenomena, and for transferring them to any Frame that contains the same CHANNEL. verb- To translate a phenomenon through a such a means, not necessarily by moving it. Examples: Energy or material types such as fire or earth, Physicality or insubstantiality, Language, A Power source like "Magic" or "Mutation", Technology, A TV or radio signal, A wormhole. 

  • FOCUS: noun- An aptitude, or a situational modifier that imparts the effect of such. It makes using its contents more reliable,  verb- to make an action more reliable.  Examples: Kung fu, Computer use, Inventing, Firearms.

  • DRIVE: noun- A compulsion or aversion towards a certain behavior  that does not dictate in-character decisions, but provides benefits or consequences to the entity with the DRIVE.  verb- To impart such a compulsion or aversion to a Target. Examples: The survival instinct, fight or flight response, Alcoholism, Blood lust, OCD, The three laws of robotics. 

  • HOUSE: noun- Any bounded space (real or metaphorical) where conflict or action can happen in a campaign, which has its own structural integrity Gauge that if eliminated, results in the loss of everything contained. verb-To contain Powers and Attributes- a BOND can HOUSE something. Examples: The universe, The world, A city, A building, A battle zone, Body, Mind, Soul, The Net. 

  • NEED: noun- A requirement that when fulfilled, grants the use of the contained phenomena. verb- To require something. Examples: Spell components, A vampire's need for blood, Maslow's Hierarchy of needs.

  • POOL: noun-A group of resources that you can choose from which need to be replaced before being reused. verb- To gather resources together. Examples: Alternate bodies for a shapeshifter, A spell list, Group resources and Powers, A versatile superhero's choice between Powers, Luck or Karma dice, Healing Tests per day. 

  • PLAN: noun- A list of events, that if they occur, grant the use of a specified Power. verb- To create such a recipe for a result. Examples: A spell ritual, Battlefield tactics, A heist, A character's goals for advancement, A prophecy.

  • ATTACK: noun- An Effect that you can impose on a Target with a successful Challenge. verb- To Challenge a Target for the right to impose an Effect. Examples: A sword blow, A curse, A demoralizing comment, Mind control, Activating a Target's Bloodlust, Unwanted help.

  • CONSTRUCT: noun- A created phenomenon other than a Frame, that exists until successfully Challenged [CONSTRUCTed Frames are not currently considered CONSTRUCTs]. verb- To create any phenomenon. Examples: An illusion, Jury-rigging an invention, Forging a BOND, Forming a PLAN, creating a new monster. 

  • INFLUENCE: noun- An Effect that constantly modifies the behavior and Features of any phenomenon it Contacts. Useful for modifying the rules inside a Frame. verb- To augment a phenomenon by applying Effects to it. Examples: Gravity, Heat, Charisma, A realm where death is impossible, A place where certain magics work more or less effectively, Depression or Mania. 

  • IMPLEMENT: noun- A tool which that grants its Effects on behalf of its user, and which allows the user to of use any Attributes of its containing Frame for applying those Effects. If its Frame is missing a required Attribute, the user may supply their own. Most useful when combined with another Power. verb- To apply the contained Effect. Examples: A sword, a computer, an airplane, a secret about an enemy, a spell, a financial instrument.

  • MANEUVER: noun- An Effect that a user can apply to themselves without a Test. verb- To apply an Effect to one's self. Examples: Movement types, Transforming into a superhero, Regeneration, Entering berserker rage, Resisting being moved. 

  • SHIELD: noun- An Effect that interposes itself between its user and a phenomenon, and which delivers its Effect to that phenomenon when the SHIELD makes Contact with it. verb- To defend a Target in such a way. Examples: A starship's cloaking device, Armor, A trap, A summoning circle. 

  • TRUST: noun- A gift or endowment that delivers its effects to the Target if unchallenged, which can be taken away if it delivers more than an instantaneous Effect. verb- To give a Target the right to use or benefit from a phenomenon. Examples: The Trojan horse, A gifted weapon, a healing spell, A mob boss's protection, Faith in another character.
  • BLOCK: noun- An obstacle to the action of a Target. verb- To deny a Target's action. Examples: A block in combat, Handcuffs, A binding that prevents a target from benefiting from magic, A wall. 

  • BRACE: noun- A reinforcing agent. verb- To reinforce a Target. Examples: A buttress, Standing one's ground, The virulence of a disease, Balance on a tightrope. 

  • CHARGE: noun- An increase to a Target phenomenon's Rank or Gauge. verb- To Empower a Target phenomenon by drawing on a resource. Examples: The Effect of encouragement in a time of need, Pushing one's BLOCKs, Powering up a spell. 

  • DODGE: noun- A method of bypassing or evading an obstacle. verb- To avoid Contact with a Target. Examples: Dodging an Attack, Altering an energy beam's 'phase harmonics' to penetrate an enemy's force field, Bypassing a trap, Reading a mind. 

  • EXPLOIT: noun- A stunt or other adaptation of an existing phenomenon (Function, Power, Frame, or Attribute) that changes its Target. verb- To adapt an existing phenomenon to another purpose . Examples: Changing a starship's shields into a cloaking device, turning a movement Power into an attack, redirecting the flow of energy. 

  • EXCHANGE: noun-The mechanism of a trade. verb- To trade one Target for another at a fixed rate. Examples: Shapeshifting, Converting damage into healing, Body duplication, Changing anger into love. 

  • HARNESS: n. A method of gaining or maintaining control of a target or phenomenon.  v. To take control of a target or phenomenon.  Examples:  Driving a vehicle, Controlling lightning, Mind control, Restraints.

  •  LINK: noun- A Target that has been appended to something else. verb- To attach one Target to another. Examples: Chemical combination, the link between soulmates' souls, Cooperation.

  • RELAY: noun- The mechanism or agent of a phenomenon's conveyance. verb- To convey a phenomenon to or from a Target location (such as a Frame, or a Position in a HOUSE). Examples: Running or walking, Making a phone call, Extracting a memory hidden in someone's mind, Throwing something, Firing a weapon, Spreading an Effect over an area, Transferring a dream object into the real world across a CHANNEL. 

  • SLICE: noun- Part of a phenomenon separated from a whole. verb- To separate part of a phenomenon from a whole, leaving a VOID behind. Examples: Cutting off a limb, dividing your FOCUS, Distilling a property out of an elixir, Stealing an object (once you RELAY the SLICE away), Removing an unwanted condition. 

  • TRIGGER: noun- A situation that causes the activation of a phenomenon, and the agent of said activation. verb- To activate a phenomenon, either upon an event or at will. Examples: The trigger on a gun, A sensor, A fuse, Taunting, Chain reactions, Instincts, A key, A lock. 

  • VOID: noun- A decrease to a Target phenomenon's Rank or Gauge, which allows ACCESS to whatever is beyond or contained within. Something missing. verb- To decrease a Target's Rank or Gauge. To end something. Examples: Damage, Distraction, Punching a hole in a Target's SHIELD, Ending or destroying a phenomenon. 
 Scale Elements
  • CYCLE: n. The duration before an phenomenon expires. v. To repeat or sustain a phenomenon. Examples:  A timer, A fire's fuel, a bleeding wound,  the length of time that a summoned creature remains on the worldly plane, a period of psychosis. 

  • REACH: n. The farthest range or extent of a phenomenon from its point of origin.  v. To extend a phenomenon  to a point some distance away from its origin.  Examples:  An arm's length,  The range of a bullet, The ability effectively interact with higher or lower social strata.   

  • SPREAD: n. The scope or area of a phenomenon's effect. Size.  v. To expand a phenomenon's area or volume in a HOUSE.  Examples: The blast of an explosion,  The size of a giant (or character),  the prevalence of a BOND in a character's Mind.