The Entropic Gaming System by Mystic Throne Entertainment is a hidden gem of a gaming system. I originally bought a copy as a show of solidarity to other small press publishers and was pleasantly surprised to discover that it’s a really solid game system. It’s detailed without being overly complex and the basics are easy to learn. There are a fair number of combat maneuvers that take some work to memorize but they’re all logically derived from the core mechanic so it all falls into place pretty readily.
Like most games, Entropic breaks most things into attributes and skills. Like Savage Worlds, each is represented by a die type ranging from d4 to d12. Like White Wolf you almost always roll an attribute and a skill together and add the result together. Most of the time, you’re shooting for 7, which is pretty easy if you have 2d8 in a skill/attribute combo. Not so much if you’ve got 2d4. What I haven’t seen before is their elegant method of determining crits. If both dice come up the same number, it’s a critical. Critical hit or critical failure depends entirely on whether you would have succeeded or not normally. I once critically succeeded against an orc by rolling a 2, the lowest possible result for myself. The orc lacked the skill in question and his attribute die came up a 1. I had doubles and I technically beat his roll so… critical success. Characters who are good at stuff tend to be very good and the skills they’re not good at, they tend to be terrible — much like the real world. However, because you always roll at least one die, there’s a chance that an unskilled character might succeed through luck or raw talent.
You might think that this sort of set-up would lend itself to min-maxing characters and you’d be right… to a point. Dexterity is considerably more useful than other attributes so everyone will be sure to load up on it. It’s not as bad as in some systems since they make a point of declaring that two-handed weapons (and presumably heavy machine guns) use Strength instead of Dexterity to attack. So there’s ways around the conundrum of having a less-than-agile but still effective combatant. Likewise, there are enough skills that nobody can master them all and everyone will be forced to make a roll they aren’t optimized for at least twice per session. Min-maxers will love rolling 2d12 Dexterity + Firearms… right up until they have to score a 7 on their d4 + nothing Spirit + Resist roll. Such characters tend not to last long, which I like.
Combat plays really quickly, even through everyone gets 3 actions per round. It seems like a lot until you realize that movement is an action and so is parrying or dodging. So if you’ve got 3 guys shooting at you and you opt to dodge them all, you could easily use up all your actions before your turn comes. You’re a chump if you do, though, since a better use of one of those actions would be to dive for cover. There’s a variety of combat maneuvers you can use to gain an advantage (or to penalize your opponent) so fights against heavily armored opponents don’t end up with one side just making a bunch of attacks and hoping for a critical.
Another thing that streamlines combat is: fixed damage. A dagger does 3 points of damage on every hit. A given gun always does 5 damage. You’d think this would remove some of the drama from play by eliminating the damage roll but it mostly just serves to move things along. Plus, there’s always a chance that an attacker might score a critical hit (which gives a bonus to damage). Alternately, a character can spend a Hero Point (the equivalent of a Fate point or Savage World Bennie) for a modest bonus to damage. Likewise, you can spend a Hero Point to gain either a +1d6 to any skill roll or +3 if you prefer a sure thing. You can cash in hero points for other bonuses/benefits, all of which are summarized on a single page. Furthermore, most situational bonuses give you the equivalent benefit of a Hero Point (which must be spent immediately) so you not only get to choose the mechanic your bonus uses but, it’s a consistent system across the board. In this manner, the EGS saves a lot of time and system space (both physically in the book and also how much you need to carry around in your head) in a manner both ingenious and elegant.
The 0nly major flaw with the EGS is that it’s still pretty new and I don’t think all that widely distributed, so you’re likely to find other people playing it. Also, if you’re the type of GM who likes to run book adventures, you’re mostly out of luck. (There are some available… some published by paNik productions… but they may not be in your preferred genre). On the other hand, it has a tremendous amount of potential and it’s a system I really believe in. Which is why I develop for it.