Before we dive into the nitty-gritty of this, let me just start by forewarning that RPG reviews are especially subjective. What works for me might not work for you and with the right group practically any system can be great. So take what I say with a pinch of salt.
Based on the longstanding Elite videogame series which centres around detailed space-flight simulation, trading, bounty hunting, and various other ship based activities, it raises a very important question.
Why make a tabletop RPG out of it?
If you want detailed spaceship simulation, Traveller already exists. If you wanted to play in the Elite universe, there are a number of open license systems the setting could have been transplanted onto. If you wanted a decent game, you could have… nah, that’s a bit too harsh.
My big problem with Elite is that the book is nearly 400 pages long but the underlying system is remarkably simple. Too simple really. Whenever you want to interact with something/someone by using a skill, fisticuffs, or guns, you roll a D10. If that D10 lands on a 10, you get an automatic success regardless of difficulty, otherwise you’re aiming to beat a target number by adding your skill bonus to your roll. The astute among you will have noticed that the little auto success rule there means that you have a 10% chance, every time you roll, to completely succeed at something.
And I’d like to take this moment to remind everyone that the “Nat 20” rule in D&D started life as a homebrew and, last I checked, still was.
What this means is that in my experience players will breeze through most things even at low levels. Even if you’re setting Hard targets for them.
“Oh no, the giant raptor thing is coming for me? I’ll toss a grenade and make it think its a treat!”
One auto-success later and the horrible mutant creature that was the crux of that section is dead. Cue looting.
With the inclusion of Karma abilities which allow players to burn Karma points to re-roll natural 1s, the rate of success shoots ever higher. Which can be good and fun but there doesn’t ever really seem to be a chance to fail so it beggars the question of why even have dice.
Very quickly it becomes apparent that the character level stuff has been included purely because you need characters to have a TTRPG. With maybe a fifth or less devoted to characters, the rest of the book is taken up by fluff, enemies, and information on ships.
Each ship gets its own catalogue entry, a few pages dedicated to its alternate versions, and various other knick-knackery. The items section details some weapons and armours for characters before dropping into a Traveller-esque ship components section and ship to ship combat is the most detailed part of the combat section.
And while we messed around with some ship to ship stuff, it didn’t have that high stakes, intense action that you’d hope for as the book doesn’t have an index…
It has two shiny bookmarking tassels and a list of Kickstarter backers, but no index and when important information is as spread out as it is in Elite an index is pretty damn important.
In the end I found the system to be too simplistic and while there are some nice nods to the gameplay of the videogame series in the form of between mission trading/bounty hunting/mining, the overall game just falls flat. If you’re a die-hard fan, the fluff in the books might be worth a read but in practice, I recommend a more robust system.
Elite Dangerous is published by Modiphius and can be bought HERE