I am Owlbear!
United States
Allen Park
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Agents of Five was designed by Steve Donohue as part of the 2013 24 hour RPG contest on rpggeek. It can be downloaded on this site. It might seem odd to review my own entry, but I probably know its warts as well as anyone and I’ve actually run it twice since I submitted it.

Agents of Five posits the existence of the Yuansu Shi, creatures which have control of their elemental nature and use it in service of the Celestial Hierarchy. This primarily makes them into do-gooders but because they work for the Hierarchy, they occasionally do things that might not seem good to the average person.

In the initial rules there are four potential settings each of which is given a background, typical missions, enemies, allies, and repercussions for the characters unique to that setting. The settings are thumbnails, less than a page each but they are a nice touch. The four provided are modern America, Mythic China, Fantasy Europe, and a second modern idea set in a zombie apocalypse.

Character Creation
Characters have 5 basic attributes, dictated by the Wu Xing: Earth, Wood, Fire, Water, and Metal. Each of them starts at one and they are given 6 points to spend with the proviso that no more than two points may be spent on a single attribute. Once those are determined, the character determines dominance and health.

Dominance is found by comparing the elements in pairs based on the Wu Xing concept of controlling elements. Health is determined by adding elements which feed each other in the Wu Xing. Dominance is expressed as both the element and the number, so if a character had Fire of 3 and Water of 1, they would end up with a Dominance of Fire 2. If that same character had Wood of 2, then wood and fire (which complement each other) add to 5 and would provide a health of 5.

From there, the characters choose skills and powers. There are 30 skills in all, 5 for each element and 5 which can be taken in any element. Skills are associated with an element and if the character attempts that skill, they count as having double the element as a target, which means skills provide a significant difference in abilities.

There are 5 powers in each element and 6 powers which can be taken in any element. The powers have a level from 0 -2 and they cost 1 point more than their level to take. Characters receive points equal to the sum of their Health and Dominance to purchase powers. They cannot take more powers of a higher level than of a lower level, and they can’t take a power at a higher level than their rating in that element (since Earthquake is a level 2 Earth power, a character with Earth 1 can’t take it).

Playing the Game
The game is traditional, with a gamemaster setting up challenges for the players and playing the roll of all NPCs including the Celestial Hierarchy. For some players this might produce a high level of railroading, so it’s important the Hierarchy be rather vague in their directions. The process of the game tends to find the players working together to achieve goals.

The System
The basic of the system is that the players will roll 5 dice counting any number under their target as a success. So if a character is breaking down a door, they gm might determine that it is a target 6, so the player will roll 5d6 trying to roll under their attribute (double the attribute with an appropriate skill). Any number under their target will count as a success. The challenges range from d4 to d12.

In play, the characters can also use their dominance to help them. They can aid another by adding their dominance rating if they have complimentary elements (so a character with Wood 2, can add 2 to the power of a character whose element is Fire). They can also shield a character from damage by using their dominant element to reduce the damage from the opposed element, so a character with Water 2, can reduce the damage from a fire attack by 2.

First things first, it would be inappropriate to really lambast a game someone made in 24 hours or less (even my own). I’m not going to talk about grammar, spelling etc., unless it really gets in the way of understanding the rules. Likewise, I won’t make too much ruckus about the physical presentation of the game.

The character creation system proves to be somewhat more difficult than expected because it involves adding/subtracting each of the elements in pairs. It isn’t difficult math, but it’s unusual and it creates a lot of confusion for the players.

In play, the system doesn’t work very well because 5 dice is too many. A character with an attribute of 1 will succeed on even the most difficult task about a third of the time and it quickly ramps up from there so that success is nearly guaranteed in any task if you have a rating of 3; given that skills double attributes, this isn’t difficult to achieve.

I still think there’s a good idea here, but I think it’s ruined by the system and by a lot of unanswered questions. In my two play sessions we’ve made some changes to the rules in an attempt to overcome these, but so far we haven’t managed to fix the problem with the core resolution. Most likely, that part needs to be torn out and a new method of task resolution determined. There’s also issues with some of the powers, but that’s to be expected in a 24 hour game.

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