Essence20. Who Knew?

I really like Essence20 as an RPG system so far. It’s a lot easier to work with and more flexible than a lot of games out there right now.


We’re now a couple of games into this system, and I like it.

This is the GI Joe character sheet. So far very similar to Power Rangers RPG.

I like Essence20 from Renegade Studios so far. The player and core mechanics are where this company really tends to shine. I’ll talk a little more about combat crunch in another article. I wanted to really highlight some of the character features of both Power Rangers and GI Joe RPGs so far.

They’ve kinda cornered the market on borrowing from other systems.

One of the things that impresses me most about Essence20 as a system is that it borrows from several RPGs that have been around for a long time and makes it fresh. Obviously there’s the D&D d20 aesthetic for most skill rolls and damage, etc. It runs off character classes and the Influences are sort of what I expect D&D races are going to start to resemble. Origins are also kind of in that category along with a mashup of backgrounds.

The pips under the Essence categories resemble another classic- namely White Wolf’s World of Darkness. The broader skill categories and specializations sort of remind me of that WoD character sheet as well. I like the way each Essence score has a separate defense tied into it, the way I remember opposed skill checks work in WoD just simplified.

The other mechanic that smacks of both Cortex and Savage Worlds/Deadlands is the way skills work. Each skill has 6 pips and each pip is associated with a die type from d2 (coin) all the way to d12. Skill rolls are accomplished by rolling a d20 + the skill die OR the dice all the way up to the highest skill die and picking the best if specialized.

For example, if I want to make an Infiltration check and I have three pips (d6) I would roll a d20 + 1d6 and try to beat the target number. If I’m specialized in Stealth, I would roll a d20 (always base) +1d2, 1d4, AND 1d6 choosing the highest of the three to add to the d20 and then compare to the target number.

They break it down into fewer scores and skills to remember.

When you look at a D&D or SWADE character sheet, there are a lot of moving parts to consider and character creation is slightly more involved than Essence20. 4 Essence Scores- Strength, Speed, Smarts, and Social. That’s it. There are only five or six skills under each Score, and only a few specializations for each skill. It’s like a streamlined version of Shadowrun or D6 Star Wars. I hope and pray they keep it that way going forward. We like simple here. Really.

I think Essence20 was really developed with fans of specific franchises in mind like GI Joe and Power Rangers. It’s fast to learn and build characters and emulates whichever series in question quite well. They’re almost as good at genre emulation as Spectrum Games. You can already recreate just about any character from either GI Joe or Power Rangers series pretty rapidly just by knowing the character and looking at Essence20.

Let’s look at one of my favorites from GI Joe lore. He was a Martial Artist (Influence.) Former Hollywood stunt man so Civilian (Origin) and trained pretty extensively under good old Snake Eyes- Commando (Role.) Give him a sword and some shuriken. Fill in the rest of the bells and whistles accordingly prioritizing Speed and Strength for the most part. That’s Quick Kick. It’s easy.

That day of GI Joe vs Transformers is right over the horizon. It’s gonna be beautiful. I hope my voice holds together through my Starscream and Cobra Commander dialogue.

I would love to see Essence20 as a “generic” game system.

Maybe there’s a larger plan at work here?

I could easily see Essence20 Core selling as a book on its own. The only thing the GM would have to figure out would be Roles for whatever specific genre or franchise they wish to emulate. Influences and Origins have been pretty consistent so far as have the general skills. There might be some genre or series specific tweaks, but really it’s pretty easy to master as a framework.

You’ve literally got the start of a generic universal RPG franchise here with a little work. There is so much potential for this system to expand into specific setting and genre books just like d20 Modern, SWADE, GURPS, and FATE did before it. On the other hand, it could also get bonkers out of control like some of those games did. Could this even be the future of D&D? Time will tell.

Star Wars, WWE, Street Fighter, Marvel Superheroes, Indiana Jones, James Bond, and so many other franchises could all field Essence20 games and they would run quite smoothly. I’m not sure about horror yet, but I suspect it could work. The time consuming part is going to be figuring out the Origins, Roles, specializations, equipment/vehicles and threats for each genre/franchise. The character framework could readily be hashed out by a designer or two in a couple of days. It’s really not that daunting compared to using D&D 5E for everything.

Thanks for stopping by. More on Essence20 to come in future articles as I am enamored with this system so far. Please stay hydrated. Think positive. See ya soon.

Author: Jeff Craigmile

I'm a tabletop role-playing game writer and designer from Des Moines, Iowa always looking for more work. I'm the father of four boys and human to three cats.

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