Proteus: Second Edition uses a unique system that bears only a passing resemblance to that of the original game. The game has been completely redesigned and has many influences, including Burning Wheel, World of Darkness, Shadowrun, Earthdawn, Eclipse Phase and several others. Proteus is now more of a story game, driven by well-developed characters and supporting any manner of adventure or conflict in which they may find themselves, be it an issue of political intrigue rife with social tension, a clash between armies over a key settlement, or the exploration of an ancient ruin. Of course, the system is robust enough, "crunchy" as it were, to support players that desire a traditional combat-focused dungeon crawl.
This is now known as the PENCIL gaming system in reference to six of its key features.
Parity of the Physical and Psychological
Proteus and the PENCIL system improves the balance between physical conflict – swordplay, firefights and the like – and psychological conflict such as arguments, debates and negotiations. Social confrontation is just as detailed and complex as combat and can result in long-term effects such as trauma and the application of additional character traits.
Most game systems focus on what happens to characters during the course of gameplay, and Proteus is no exception, but how do those characters spend their time when not adventuring in search of glory, exploring ancient ruins, or participating in political intrigue? The PENCIL system enables players to quickly simulate the day-to-day activities of characters between adventures, whether that time is spent at a day job to earn money, recovering from injury, or training to improve skills or learn new ones.
Similar in concept to the magic systems used in other games, some characters in Proteus possess unusual abilities that enable them to manipulate various forms of energy. This flexible system is called Novitics, in reference to the Latin word for energy, and allows players to design and utilize different abilities and effects on the fly using energy forms such as photonic (light), thermal (heat), kinetic (motion), electrical, psychic and biogenic (the energy of living entities). These energy forms are manipulated through both a dynamic (disruption, control, generation or attenuation) and a manifestation (bolt, flow, wave, pulse, field, etc.).
Character- and Conflict-Driven
Characters, and the conflicts in which they find themselves, form the centerpiece of the PENCIL system. The background and history of characters, as well as their goals and motivations, are all integrated into the game’s mechanics. Play in Proteus is also conflict-driven and allows the players and GM to focus on conflicts that are of prime importance to the characters and the storyline. Conflicts may be resolved with a single test, a series of linked tests or by use of extended conflict systems like Entering the Fray or Getting Your Way that provide for detailed action-by-action conflict between characters - whether that conflict is a mass melee with flailing swords and spear, a firefight with crude guns and advanced energy weaponry, arguing a case to exonerate a friend on trial, or a heated argument between party members on the best way to assault an enemy campsite.
Physical injury is always a risk to intrepid adventurers, be they villagers contending with native wildlife, members of a team exploring unstable ruins, or guards protecting a city from attack. Injury in Proteus is tracked through the use of wounds, with the severity of the wound determined by the amount and type of damage sustained. Using the incremental damage mechanic, weapons and other sources of injury utilize two numbers to represent the damage inflicted, a base damage and a damage increment. The minimum amount of damage dealt is the base damage, with more severe injuries increasing the damage by a multiple of the damage increment. Combined with a dozen different types of damage, this allows for a wide variety of weapons and armor without requiring a lot unnecessary math or extra dice.
Lineage Character Creation
Taking a page from games that use lifepaths to create characters, character creation in Proteus makes use of backgrounds to develop characters piece by piece. However, the PENCIL system takes the process a step further. While most games allow players to create characters belonging to one of many species, or even predefined hybrids like half-elves, Proteus players can create characters that are a mix of multiple races. Based on the parentage, or Lineage, of a character players can combine up to four different species when creating their characters – essentially creating their alter egos from a genetic level. This allows for thousands of combinations before even beginning to develop a character’s backgrounds.
These are the core features of the PENCIL gaming system, but there is still more to explore – both of the system and the setting of Proteus.
But that will have to wait for another time…