Exploring RPG Engines - 五德: The Five Powers

As part of creating “The Land and the People,” “URCAT,” and “Illuminom," I examined their SRDs bases on this blog, the Carta SRD and LUMEN SRD respectively. This was in part to help me in my creation process, but also to help inform others who might want to participate in associated Game Jams.

The next two jams I am planning on creating entries for have appeared, each one based around a SRD created by creator friends. Next time I will be looking at Peach Garden Game‘s Harmony Drive SRD that power’s their creation “Heroic Chord.” This time I will be examining 五德 [wǔdé]: The Five Powers, though you may have seen it on the internet under the name WuDe along with its creator Ralf Mayenberger under the Twitter and itch.io handle, WuDeRPG.

五德: The Five Powers

Some of you might have have seen my Hype-swap with WuDeRPG on Twitter where I examined his LUMEN Jam entry, The Clean-Up Crew. In it, I mentioned the Elemental Dice System playing a significant roll in the Cleaners’ and Monsters’ special abilities. This is the basis for WuDe.

WuDe really speaks to me due to its philosophical underpinnings and strongly narrative, adaptive system. If you do not find my explanation compelling, WuDeRPG has provided a deep-dive blog post of their own in the structure of the Elemental Dice system that you can find here complete with a slideshow demonstrating the dice elements of the mechanics in a step by step process.

How does 五德: The Five Powers Work?

Those of you with passing familiarity with Taoism, Oriental medicinal practices, Chinese Astronomy, or other elements of popular Chinese culture and philosophy may be familiar with the concepts of the Five Elements [Wǔ Xíng] and the dualistic concepts of Yin and Yang represented by the Tàijí. Even if you don’t know their names, you likely recognize the Tàijítú and other symbols used to represent them below.

In WuDe, the game is built around these concepts combined with the idea of 無為 [wúwéi] or inaction. Basically, attempting to commit to an action challenges the existing balance of the universe, which in turn creates Chaos. A metaphorical way to think of it would be to stir up the muck on the bottom of a calm pool trying to find something in it. Whether you will find what you were looking for depends on how the muck settles in the end.

Your dice roll is the muck settling back out, resolving the chaos either in your favor or the opposition’s. This is represented by the player rolling between 1-3 Yang dice depending on the character’s skill or advantages and 1-3 Yin dice depending on the situation’s difficulty or the opposition’s skill. So for example, if I, a middling public speaker, was trying to convince a sympathetic audience of someone’s innocence, I might roll 2 Yang and 1 Yin dice.

The Anatomy of a Roll

We use six-sided dice to make these rolls with each of the numbers associated with an element in the Five Elements.

Since Yang and Yin are opposites, rolls showing the same number neutralize and remove one another. 

Next, we consult the pentagram of red arrows in our diagram of the Five Elements to see what elements destroy or overcome each other in our roll. For example, If I roll a Yang Fire and a Yin Metal, the Yang Fire will remove the Yin Metal from the final result.

Does all of this sound complicated looking at numbers and elements and tables? Well, here is an easy way to think of it.

1 eliminated 3, 2 eliminated 4, 3 eliminates 5, 4 eliminates 1, and 5 eliminates 2

But five Elements on a six-sided die would leave you with an extra number, right? Ah, it does! In this case, a 6 represents Qi, the vital energy behind life itself. This acts like a trump suit, marking an automatic success or failure unless a Yang Qi and Yin Qi eliminate each other.

How We Interpret the Roll?

Finally, we interpret the roll and this is where the magic comes in. The Character is considered to have succeeded if the a Yang Qi is left in the final pool, Yang is stronger, or if Yang or Yin are equal. The Character has failed if Yin is stronger or a Yin Qi is in the final pool. In a dark setting you might want to flavor this by making equal Yang/Yin rolls failures instead of successes.

Now, you might notice that we could end up with Yin or Yang elements remaining in the final pool even if that side lost. This can help color the methods or consequences of our successes and failures. Returning to me protesting my friend’s innocence, let us say I roll Yang Fire, Yang Water, and Yin Wood. I succeeded in convincing the crowd due to Yang dominating Yin. Looking at the associated virtues and Yin-associated emotions, maybe I succeeded by appealing to their passions and sense of honor, but as a result I angered someone important.

The unresolved elements can also be stored and come up when creating the next scene. Maybe the anger associated with that Yin Fire die roll made the crowd furious at the person who accused my friend. In the next scene they act on it, causing a riot.

These unresolved elements informing future scenes and the dice system being self-resolving means that is that you can play WuDe without a Game Master. In fact, it is encouraged. That said, with the elemental interpretation of rolls, it may be good to have a storyteller familiar with the rules for new groups. While the cultural background behind the system 
suggests certian settings for stories like the Spring and Autumn Period and Modern Hong Kong storylines WuDeRPG has created to go with the game, I feel that Elemental Dice System can fit a wide verity of other settings along with integration into magical systems like we see in some of WuDeRPG's other creations.

Where can I Find It? What is this about a Jam?

五德: The Five Powers can be found on itch.io, though some basic documents can also be found on WuDeRPG's Blog and a one page quick guide is available for free on itch.io.

The Five Powers Jam #2 is already open and will continue until September 21st, the Mid-Autumn Festival. Anything related to the Elemental Dice system can be entered including games, expansions, game settings for WuDe, and spins on the Elemental Dice system. If you want some inspiration, some games have already been submitted and WuDeRPG ran their first Five Powers Jam last year.

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