This article originally appeared in Pyramid #3
Envoy is a system-independent (SI) publishing format for the roleplaying industry. With Envoy, gaming companies and roleplaying periodicals can publish roleplaying material without having to tie it to a specific game system. Envoy source books and adventure modules can be used with any gaming system on the market, and any magazine and gaming company can license the Envoy system from Wizards of the Coast free of charge (there are some "fine print" restrictions, which are listed at the end of this article).
by Peter Adkison
At the end of this article are some additional suggestions for those of you who would like to develop or publish Envoy products.
Introduction to EnvoyEnvoy is not a game system itself and is not designed to be used with some specific game system. Rather, it is designed to be used with any game system already on the market and even systems not yet introduced. Envoy defines a format for publishing roleplaying worlds, beasties, characters and so forth, collectively referred to as entities, and conversion notes for translating this material to various game systems on the market.
It should be noted that the Envoy format is thorough enough that if you know your game system well you may not need conversion notes. Or, if you're an advocate of system-less gaming, the Envoy format will provide enough information on characters that advanced gamemasters should be able to use the information directly. Also note that conversions from Envoy to your game system of choice will not be perfect. Different worlds and different systems use different assumptions, have different philosophies on how play should proceed, use different critters and so forth. Combined with differences in genre and scale, it quickly becomes apparant that no matter how good a job we did with Envoy, you will still need to use some discretion when using Envoy material.
The Envoy Setting and ScaleNote that even though Envoy material can be used in every game system, a given Envoy entity may not be appropriate to every setting. What's appropriate for a fantasy world will almost certainly not work well in a supers campaign, or vice versa. So, when contemplating the use of an Envoy product, consult the setting description to make certain that it is appropriate for your campaign.
In describing the setting we recommend using the common genre terms that most are familiar with, such as fantasy, science fiction and horror.
In describing the scale we propose the following:
Grueling: Hard-core, realistic. Characters can never hope to get more powerful than the local sheriff, and getting together enough money for a suit of plate mail or a pistol could take several adventures.
Adventurous: Life is rough and characters often die, but fame and fortune can be achieved after many sessions if you live that long.
Heroic: Characters are eventually off saving the world and planar or planetary travel is not uncommon.
Immortal: Characters are often off-plane or off-planet and interact with deities or supers regularly.
Cosmic: Supers are ants, deities are annoying, characters destroy planets by accident.
Also, adjectives like dark, humorous, historical, or post-holocaust are encouraged.
For example, an Envoy product might be described as any of the following: a fantasy adventure for heroic characters, a grueling dark science fiction article for characters, or a historical (1920s) horror sourcebook for adventurous through heroic levels of characters.
The Envoy EntityThe Envoy system is designed for expressing "stats" on characters, races, creatures, etc. In Envoy these are collectively referred to as entities. The format for describing an entity is illustrated and then discussed below.
Name of Entity
Name of EntityThis is simply the name of the character, race, or creature.Summary StatementThis quickly describes the entity and will typically make reference to the entity's primary adventuring professions and how skilled the entity is at them. For example, the phrase "A Legendary Warrior" might summarize a great hero. Titles like "The Witch of the Werethrong" might also appear here.AttributesEnvoy has 20 attributes. We realize that's a lot but most of them are optional, so cheer up. The attribute system is hierarchical. There are two tiers in the hierarchy; top-tier attributes are referred to as primary attributes, while second-tier attributes are referred to as secondary attributes. Secondary attributes are optional. You might run into an Envoy entity that lists only primary attributes, or lists the primary attributes and only a couple of the secondary attributes, or maybe lists them all.The extended Envoy attributes are as follows:
If you try to convert a character using conversion notes that call for an unlisted secondary attribute, use the primary attribute score associated with that entity. For example, if an entity has a body of 9 and a constitution of 12, you'd use the 9 for strength and size.
We've formatted these in an outline format and will probably continue to do so in our publications, although other publishers may choose a different format, such as a horizontal or vertical grid.
Here is a more detailed description of each attribute:
Body is an aggregation of strength, constitution and size.
Strength reflects pure physical power, lifting capacity, and so on.
Constitution is physical health, the ability to withstand physical damage, and resistance to exposure, poison and disease.
Size is a relative aggregate measure of volume and mass. If an entity has disproportionate volume and mass, this should be noted in the entity's description.
Mind is an aggregation of memory, reasoning and perception.
Memory is ability to store and recall information accurately.
Reasoning is the ability to solve a problem through the application of logic and cognitive thought processess; this attribute also measures a person's ability to learn.
Perception is the power of the entity's senses, and the ability to use them to notice things which are unusual or different.
Dexterity is an aggregation of agility, coordination and quickness.
Agility is gross motor control.
Coordination is fine motor control.
Quickness is a measure of how fast an entity can respond to unusual situations and surprise.
Social is an aggregation of appearance, charm and communication.
Appearance is physical beauty as perceived by others, and according to generally accepted viewpoints on aesthetics and beauty.
Charm is the ability to get along with or influence others easily: friendliness, charisma, presence...
Communication is the ability to convey ideas through speech: fast talking, lying carefully, dissuading opposition, or manipulating others.
Spirit is an aggregation of aura, intuition and willpower.
Aura is the magnitude of one's inborn spiritual power, spiritual force, spiritual beauty, karma, destiny, or attractiveness to spiritual beings; spiritual strength can be described this way.
Intuition is spiritual coordination, non-ordinary senses, aptitude for ESP, prescience, danger sense, luck, the ability to "just know" things, or the ability to leap to conclusions with no logical supporting evidence.
Willpower reflects the ability to concentrate, resist domination, or ignore pain; spiritual reserves, resistence to spiritual attack, determination, or mental reserves are also covered here.
The Attribute Scale
Attributes are rated on a scale that starts off at zero and proceeds upward, with human average at 10, the absolute human maximum at about 20, and monsters, supers and deities beyond that. The scale is listed below. Note that for attributes other than strength it's very difficult to come up with a quantitative way of measuring things (what would you use as a unit of charisma?) Ultimately we decided it was best to simply create a more-or-less arbitrary scale and identify how some of the points on the scale would relate to things we can identify in our own world. Another difficulty with using a precise scale is that not all game systems are consistent with each other, and if the scale is too precise it might make us look like we're trying to "fix" some system -- a stance we'd prefer to avoid.
The 0-10-20 Scale
The attribute is completely nonexistant. Examples: the intelligence of a rock, the physical strength of a ghost, the lack of any attractive features, willpower not even sufficient for life.
These attributes are mostly reserved for animals, although some animals will certainly have physical attributes that are much higher. You wouldn't expect to find a human with an attribute this low unless he were completely convalescent. Examples: intelligence of a mouse, beauty of a worm
3-5 Human Feeble.
A human with an attribute in this range is able to go about life, but will probably be seriously handicapped. Examples: agility of a human in water.
6-7 Poor Human.
A human with an attribute in this range has a definite disadvantage, but with determination and a positive outlook on life could adapt and live more-or-less normally (depending on the attribute and the society). Examples: the charisma of the stereotypical "nerd."
8-12 Average Human.
Attributes in this range are roughly average, or close enough that it doesn't give the person much of a handicap or advantage either way.
13-15 Good Human.
A person with an attribute in this range will definitely have an advantage in this area over most people. By picking a profession or activity where this attribute is important, this person will have a reasonable chance of being successful at life.
16-18 Excellent Human.
A person with an attribute in this range has a strong advantage in this area and will be looked up to in this regard by his or her peers, particularly if it's a highly visible trait like intelligence, strength, or beauty (having a high constitution is wonderful, but few are likely to notice). An 18 is the highest that one could normally expect to find in a human. Humans can go higher, but they are very rare.
19-20 Max Human.
Human maximum without supernatural influence. A 19 is for the best in the country, while 20s are world-record holders. Examples: the strength to bend crowbars with bare hand
This is where you'd rate attributes that are beyond the human range, but not grossly beyond. Examples: the strength of an elephant, the intelligence of a cybernetically-enhanced human, the senses of a demon, the beauty of the appropriate fey, the ability to resist common weapons (like knives) with little harm, being legendary on a planet-wide scale, being immune to fear, having willpower that can survive several crises without losing commitment. Entities with Strength toward 40 can dent steel walls with strength; constitution that high can withstand wounds from firearms.
41-60 Low Immortal.
This is where the exceptional attributes of most average supers and deities would lie. Examples: the IQ of a self-aware supercomputer, dodge bullets, break down steel walls, steel hard skin, withstand all the worries of the world, legendary on a cross-planar scale. Toward 60 can dodge laser beams, catch bullets out of air, throw an autombile half a mile, or have skin that is resistent to small caliber artillery shells.
61-80 High Immortal.
This is where you'd find the exceptional attributes of either very powerful supers or the deities of myth. Examples: being virtually indestructible by anything short of nuclear weapons, capable of withstanding all the worries of the world continuously for centuries, able to attract the attention of powerful entities such as demonlords without effort, able to reason with and possibly alter strong personalities (like demons or angels), bearing a divine spirituality, being legendary on a multi-versal scale.
Such an entity is almost beyond human comprehension, with abilities approaching the infinite. Examples: can see anything represented in the available spectrum of light, bearing the strength to devour a planet, carries the intellectual capacity to know the energy state of the universe, moves faster than light, can withstand nuclear weapons, can bear all the worries of the universe, wields galactic influence, or spiritually pure. This individual is invulnerable.
Below the attributes is an area reserved for some other key statistics. These are movement, combat, damage and armor.
Movement represents an entity's base rate of movement unassisted by any extraneous effects or powers. The number that appears here is roughly somewhere between yards per second and meters per second (referred to as "yeters per second"). Yes, this does seem rather arbitrary, but it has some subtle advantages. First of all, if you double this number you'll have a close approximation to miles per hour, and if you triple it, kilometers per hour.
Combat uses the same scale that adventuring professions and skills use (see below), which starts off at zero, for completely unskilled, and proceeds up to 20 and beyond for entities of legendary combat skill.
Damage rank is a somewhat generic way of measuring the level of damage that an entity's attack can inflict. Using the 0-10-20 scale, 0 is no damage. An unskilled fighter with strength 10 on the 0-10-20 scale wielding a light weapon like a shortsword or poniard would inflict damage of rank 10; the damage done by an unskilled fighter with strength 20 wielding a two-handed sword or equivalent weapon is rank 20. Note that where possible Envoy writeups will include an actual description of the weapon being used, and if your system already has stats for that weapon those stats should be used instead of whatever the Envoy writeup converts to. This same suggestion applies to armor, which is covered below.
Armor reflects the additional protection afforded a creature due to its skin, scales, armor, or other protective abilities or magic. The equivalent of having no armor or scales, and soft skin is a 0; 5 represents soft leather or furs; 10 represents average medieval reinforced-leather armor; 15 represents chainmail; 20 represents the finest medieval plate mail; and 30 represents the finest plate mail one would be able to make today with kevlar or high strength metal alloys and advanced welding, sealing, and tooling techniques.
Any number greater than 30 means that the armor can barely withstand the average amount of damage inflicted by an attack with a comparable damage rank. For example, an dragon with an armor value (from scales) of 40 could withstand the average damage dealt by a weapon or spell with a damage rating of 40.
Note that armor does not "stop damage" in all game systems; in some system it might simply make you harder to hit, for example. When converting to these systems one must think about the real-life equivalencies and how much damage the armor would normally stop if the game system mechanics were developed along those lines.
Adventuring professions are used to lump a whole bunch of skills together under one convenient label. Not only does this make entity descriptions more concise, it also makes it easier to convert the entity to a class or archetype based system. It is up to you to figure out what class or set of skills will fit the entity in your system. A well-written Envoy product will use intuitive traditional profession labels so that conversion is straightforward. Also, Envoy developers will be instructed to be specific in listing skills if a specific skill is critical to an entity's makeup.
We also provide a scale to rate adventuring professions (and skills too); the conversion notes will tell you how to relate that to class levels, skill levels, or whatever parallel concept that system uses. The scale for rating an entity's ability at an adventuring profession or skill is as follows:
The entity is not formally trained in the skill, but may have some chance of executing the skill because of exposure to it: for example, a 12-year-old's skill at driving a car, or a caveman's ability with a bow after seeing someone else do it. At zero, the skill is completely non-existent and if attempted, there is practically no chance of success unless extreme coincidence is involved.
The entity is actually trained in the profession and skill, but has not yet acquired a great deal of experience at it. For example, a computer programmer going through college who would probably be rated at 5 after the first year and at 8 by the time he or she had received a bachelor's degree. Another example would be a soldier after basic training.
The entity has training and experience in their field. This person may have been practicing for years, or even a lifetime, but hasn't advanced farther because he or she doesn't have what it takes to be a master.
The entity has excelled beyond what a normal person would be likely to achieve in this profession or skill. The entity is often a trainer of others.
The entity's proficiency is of legendary proportions (for humans), with a reputation that will most likely spread to other countries or even other planes and last long after the entity passes on.
This is where you can learn a bit more detail about what specific skills a character has. There is no master set of skills. A well-written Envoy product will use skill descriptions that are straightforward and easy to convert. The scale for rating skills is identical to the one used above for adventuring professions.
Notes on Skills
Languages: Envoy characters designed to be put into the GM's campaign would probably just speak 'Common'. In some cases, such as new creatures or races and modules set in a specific setting, then a specific language would be given.
Different Genres: The meanings of skills change from genre to genre with changing knowledge, capacity, and technology, so skill ratings are also relative to that level.
Obviously there's a lot more to an entity than simply attributes and skills. There are things like history, personality, appearance, motives, religious beliefs, mating habits, and so on. To many of us these things are even more important than the actual attributes themselves. However, since they are typically described in non-mechanical terms, you really don't need conversion notes for them, and even suggesting a format for publishers to use in describing their entities would probably appear arrogant, and certainly unnecessary.
Magical Items, Spells, and Other Effects
Without having to introduce any new features Envoy can be used to describe many things besides entities. Mostly this is done by referring to the scales used for entities and describing how the effect interacts with those scales. This is best explained through examples.
A magical weapon might improve the combat skill of its wielder. For example, the Longsword of Switch adds 12 to the wielder's combat rating, does rank 16 damage, but has the strange side effect of making the wielder dress in black all the time and avoid daylight.
A magical set of armor might simply be given a straight armor value, like 24, or could be listed as some standard type of armor with a plus. For example, the Plate Mail of Maloney is treated as standard plate, with +10 to its armor rating, and has the nice side effect of adding 3 to the wearer's reasoning ability; however in any given conversation there is a 5% chance that the wearer will launch into some long disertation on advanced biology and genetics.
A spell might be described with a combination of real-life terms and Envoy terms. For example, three times per day this wand can be verbally commanded to create a "Loren's Pillar of Flame," a pillar of fire 3 meters in diameter and 10 meters tall, at any location within 20 meters of the user, doing rank 50 fire damage to everyone in the blast radius.
Converting Between Systems
You might be tempted to use Envoy to convert material between published game systems by going from one system to Envoy and then converting the material from Envoy to another system. You are welcome to try this if you like, but since perfect conversions are nearly impossible, converting twice can really screw things up.
If you're planning on converting a lot of material from one specific system to another, we recommend you convert directly between such systems. It's certainly possible that Envoy can be of assistance in reconciling scales and so on. But in the end, trust your own intuition and judgment. We're certainly not perfect, we're trying to cover many systems, and your closer examination of one specific case could easily discover something we've missed or couldn't account for in Envoy.
Also, there are several publications already available on the market which have conversion rules for some systems. Among those are: DataCon by The Armory and Guns, Guns, Guns by Blacksburg Tactical Research Center. Also, several game systems, like Rolemaster® by Iron Crown Enterprises, have conversions to other systems. When converting from one system to another, published conversion notes will probably work better then going through Envoy, although comparing results might prove an interesting exercise.
Notes to Envoy Developers
Setting and Scale
Envoy products should clearly state their setting and scale.
If you want to abbreviate your description of an entity you can leave out some or all of the secondary attributes. When you do this, Game Masters have to use the primary attribute associated with the missing secondary attribute. For example, if a GM needs to know an entity's strength, and no strength attribute is listed, he will use body instead. Leaving out secondary attributes may confuse some players; you'll have to judge for yourself whether the aesthetic benefit of concise attribute listings offsets the potential confusion. We'll try to help by including, within the conversion notes we publish, a note beside each secondary attribute reminding the Game Master which primary attribute to use if the secondary attribute is missing.
Primary attributes should typically be at or near the average of the three secondary attributes. They don't have to be, but if you describe an entity with a body of 5 and strength, constitution and size of 8, 9 and 10 respectively, some players may look at this and wonder. Try to be realistic with attribute ratings. If you're writing for a super heroes genre, then sure, you'll have high attribute ratings. But if you're writing for traditional fantasy settings, be stingy with those 17s and 18s, and save the 19s and 20s for really special occasions so that attributes don't start to inflate over time.
Your customers will probably appreciate it if your entities follow the format we use as closely as possible. At the very least, be sure to list all primary attributes.
ProfessionsWhen indicating an entity's adventuring profession you should strive for titles that are fairly generic and self-explanatory. Avoid things like "star hunter" or "time traveler" which might be difficult for most GMs to understand and interpret into skills. Professions like assassin, barbarian, merchant, smuggler, or warrior are good, and traditional terms like fighter, priest and thief are even better (if they fit of course). Also, adjectives are encouraged, like starship pilot, or illusionist mage.
SkillsWe've included a sample list of skills at the end of this article. This is not intended to be a complete list of skills for all genres! During the development of Envoy some of The Experts objected to including any sort of skill list, simply because they were afraid people might hesitate to use skills that were not included. This list simply to gives you something to start with.
As with adventuring professions, we urge you to use terms that are self-explanatory, and to include further notes in the entity's write-up if the skill applies only in particular circumstances. We suggest that when you work on skills that you look at the skill list from your favorite roleplaying game of the appropriate genre for ideas. Try to make your material as compatible as possible with other Envoy material you've seen, instead of trying to reinvent the wheel each time.
Some areas to think about when thinking up skills for a character are combat skills, social skills, trades and crafts, sciences, languages, performing talents, scholarly pursuits, thieving talents, and wilderness skills. You can also look at other Envoy products to see how they do things. It is very important that you select names for skills that have a clear meaning and are at a level of detail appropriate to the entity and the scenario. For example, in some situations you may want to have an entity with a thieving skill, which would include many things, while in another Envoy product it might be important to differentiate between the entity's skill levels at programming in various computer programming languages. If a skill is particularly important for the setting, you may want to provide some explanatory text to provide more insight into exactly what you intend. You can also use a two-tiered system of your own devising similar to the one we use for attributes. For example, a character might have a repair skill of 12, except on Japanese cars, where her repair skill is 17. It is generally best to list as few skills as required, but no fewer.
Weapon SkillsWe didn't see any need to create a list of weapons skills. Names of weapons should be self-explanatory, or explained in the write-up of the entity.
Sample Skill ListPlease remember that this is not intended to be a complete skill listing, but rather a jump-off point for the convenience of Envoy developers.
Artillery (specify type)
Unarmed combat (specify)
Weapons (specify type)
Comm. Systems Ops
Sleight of Hand
Sports & Games
Notes For Envoy PublishersEnvoy is simply a format that publishers, game designers and writers can use to produce roleplaying material that is compatible with any roleplaying system on the market. This is ideal for publishers who would like to concentrate more on setting than on rules. It gives you a list of attributes, a scale to place them on, and a scale to use with adventuring professions and skills. It does not define a specific list of adventuring professions and skills that must be used (although it does provide recommendations). That's all there is to it! By using this Envoy format publishers and gamers alike can be confident that the material will be readily accessible, irrespective of what game system is being played.
This is not just for Wizards of the Coast and its game systems, but is for everyone. Wizards of the Coast owns the Envoy trademarks and copyrights but will license them free of charge to any gaming company, magazine, fanzine, or free-lancer who wants to use them. A licensing agreement is required, but it is a simple agreement with no "fine print" and is only designed to protect the integrity of the Envoy intellectual property, to provide credit for the Envoy developers, and to explain the terms of this free usage. Contact us here at Wizards of the Coast, PO Box 707, Renton, WA 98057-0707, for specifics, and we'll get you up and going in no time. Our phone number is (206) 624-0933, our fax number is (206) 878-3219, and the internet electronic mail address of the Wizards of the Coast Envoy focal point, Peter Adkison, is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Important: Note that in the sections on how to convert Envoy stats to other game systems, the trademarks used by other companies are not public domain. The purpose of Envoy is to enable you to print things without having to refer to those other marks. If you should decide that you'd like to publish something that uses another company's trademarks, you should either get permission from that company, or consult an intellectual properties attorney to find out what you can do legally.
Credits: Most of the people who worked on Envoy were not paid for their efforts. The most they'll ever receive is perhaps a little recognition. Please include the design credits wherever possible. Wizards of the Coast will provide free consultation to anyone who would like to publish Envoy products. Again, contact Peter Adkison for more information.
The concept for the Envoy system was developed by Peter D. Adkison, who was also the primary author and designer throughout the development process.
Peter relied heavily on the input, critique, emotional support and general kibitzing of an online electronic mailing list, email@example.com. The members of this mailing list, referred to as "The Experts," deserve a tremendous amount of credit for this system. These experts are: Malcolm Campbell, Travis Casey, Andrew Durston, James E. Hays, Jr., George Huber, Craig Janssen, Bertil Jonell, Tadhg Kelly, Jeremy Lakatos, Bryan J. Maloney, Mike McDonald, Loren J. Miller, Jesse Mundis, Dave Nalle, Wes Nicholson, Jim Ogle, Ismo Peltonen, Laird A. Popkin, Greg Porter, Beverly Marshall Saling, Jonathan Sari, Curtis Shenton, Michael R. Smith, Ryk Spoor, A. Lee Valentine II, and Joanne White. Other consultants not on the Experts list included Michael L. Cook, Glenn Funkhouser, and W. R. Woodall.
Copyright © Wizards of the Coast, 1993, reproduced with permission. Envoy® and Wizards of the Coast® trademarks are owned by Wizards of the Coast and are used with permission.
Article publication date: October 1, 1993
Copyright © 1993 by Steve Jackson Games. All rights reserved. Pyramid subscribers are permitted to read this article online, or download it and print out a single hardcopy for personal use. Copying this text to any other online system or BBS, or making more than one hardcopy, is strictly prohibited. So please don't. And if you encounter copies of this article elsewhere on the web, please report it to firstname.lastname@example.org.