By way of caveat, I believe the game is not final yet, but everything I write below follows multiple read-throughs of the game and a face-to-face session at Grogmeet, in Manchester. Consider what you read as a review for a work in progress, which I have high hopes for and will keep a close eye on.
What You Get
Written by Sam Kusek (Cave of Monsters Games), Elements of Procedure is a colour 40-page booklet with a separate character sheet (Operative Playbook) and a ZIP file of additional resources—a 6-page Assignment Brief Template, for the record of scenario information, and seven clock images, in PNG format, for clocks with 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 segments.
The core book includes an overview of key mechanics and characters (Gameplay), a player and a narrator cheat sheet, a guide for running the game, including structure, creating locations, using clocks, and handling intruders (Narrating EOP), a set of pre-generated characters, and an appendix charting a basic Assignment.
The game’s artwork focuses on the Operatives that the Players can choose to play—if using the pre-generated characters—with some action images of them engaged in an assignment. Each Operative has a symbol associated with them, which also appears in a few spots. The Operative images appear on the pre-gens and at the end of the book. I used them to create paper miniatures (see below), which worked really well when combined with a map for the adventure.
What’s It About?
From a playthrough at a convention for which I prepared an adventure myself, the broad notion of the system works well. As with any experience of running a game for the first time, I might have misfired a few times, but everyone is forgiving of that when they’re having fun.
Each player has an Operative, and those characters have a special ability, some background, and relationships with the other Operatives. Special abilities include creating or breaking matter, seeing through time, fabricating handy objects, and so on—all reminiscent of powers seen in the Sapphire and Steel series.
Unlike Sapphire, Steel, Silver and other operatives, characters here start with a single power, but more can come with experience.
If you haven’t seen the Sapphire and Steel series, I think you will struggle to run this game – or, at least, run a game that springs from the information here rather than guided by the reality of the source material. You have the basic tools, but the guidance—at least, in this 40-page version—is scant. Given that the game isn’t a licenced property but a homage to the series, Cave of Monsters Games will need to bulk out the background to support the game if they’re to attract interest from outside of the subset of gamers who know the series.
Mechanically, the game has a lightweight system of 2d6 + modifier versus a target. Each Operative has four Stats – Cut, Carat, Clarity, and Color – and each Stat is represented by a clock. The segments in these clocks offer a modifier from 0 upwards. The first time you use a Stat, you have a zero mod; the second time, a +1; and so on, upward, until you fill the clock.
Clocks figure prominently as befits a game about the interference and breaking of Time. As well as Stats, Health has a clock. Rooms have clocks. Enemies – or Intruders – have clocks. All clocks have differing numbers of segments, and those segments mean different things. A Stat with many segments is powerful, while a Location with many segments represents a slow burn in the assignment that will only pop off after a long time (although, the advice on Locations and their clocks is another area that warrants more detail and explanation).
When you fill a Stat Clock, through use, you have to Reset it to clear it down and use it again. A Reset involves one or more flashbacks relating to your colleagues, who may be considered Lovers, Friends, and Rivals. You have to complete a number of flashbacks equal to the maximum modifier of the Clock, so a Reset for a four-segment clock requires three Resets. Whenever you clear down a Clock, you also acquire a point of Reset. Experience manifests from these Reset points. After you have a certain number of Reset points, you can spend them on making improvements to your Operative.
Resets are a quirk of the system that feels somewhat extreme, so I ignored the rules written for the convention session. For those excited by the idea of storytelling random bits of backstory, it might seem straightforward, but I think we felt that so many flashbacks would distract from and fragment the story.
Sapphire and Steel had moments where they mentioned old missions in passing, but so much of their relationship – as a pair and with other Elements – went without comment. We never knew whether Steel had a thing about Sapphire or their shared relationship with Silver – other than in comments, looks, and witty asides.
People and Places
Every assignment takes place in a single location, very much in tune with the original series. Each location has a number of rooms, some of which may be hidden at the start of the game. When an Assignment kicks off, the Players have a map in front of them, and they can manifest their Operatives in any one of the Rooms. Once they have manifested, they can choose to move to other rooms on their turn.
Oddly, Elements of Procedure has a sort of initiative system. At the start of the game, Players establish turn order by rolling 2d6, highest goes first. The notion follows that the Narrator then cycles through this turn order handling actions and the progression of the story, move by move. This felt a bit odd, so I just chose the player to my right and went around the table.
Every assignment starts with a briefing, or at least the information from a briefing received off-camera before the Operatives arrive at the Location. Then, the Players take turns to take action, seeking to uncover the problem, work out how to stop it, and then try to implement a plan to arrive at a positive outcome.
The book provides the Narrator with notes on atmosphere, story beats, setting challenges, creating locations, rooms, and intruders, and using clocks.
After repeating some of the key Narrator information as a cheat sheet, Assignment One presents a pretty basic outline for a scenario, with an unkeyed map, a bunch of non-player characters, plot points, clues, and an intruder. There’s a list of rooms, but none assigned to the map—the map itself being a bunch of random rooms, doors, and a stair with little rhyme or reason to the design.
This short outline and vague map, linked with my sense that you would need to be familiar with Sapphire and Steel to run Elements, left me wanting more support. Despite the additional work it would involve, the vague nature of Assignment One made me create something of my own from scratch and hope for the best!
The raw tools are here for everything, but I think there’s room for development. The full build of an Assignment warranted more space, as did the notion, structure, and potential challenges presented by Intruders.
I like how this has started, and I’m interested in seeing what a full version of the game will cover. The 40-page version needs more supporting material to help anyone running the game. I would also like to see the potential powers expanded and Intruders, too. More guidance, hooks, and one or more fully fleshed-out assignments with all the bells and whistles.
I’m not sure whether there will be a fuller version, as the itch page suggests this is the full book and references a Quickstart version that isn’t available anymore.
On a scale of 1 to 5, where 3 is Like, I’m sitting around 3.5 with this release. My love of the source material means I appreciate what Elements of Procedure seeks to achieve, but – at the same time – that love of the material puts me in a better place to improvise over any gaps or lack of support.
Between what’s written so far, the nice illustrations, the thematic notes of the game system, and the initial guidance/assignment, I see EoP has potential, and I would recommend buying a copy and looking out for others, giving it a run out at conventions or online.
Character Design and Artwork by Ray Bruwelheide. Game Design and Writing by Sam Kusek.