Exemplar: Yes!

edited August 2007 in Actual Play
Exemplar is my white whale. The date on the first complete draft of the rules tells me I've been working on it for about three and a half years. In that time, it's gone through six completely different complete playable versions of the rules, with four of those actually being played. Tonight we played the sixth version, and, for the first time, it was exactly what I envisioned it to be.

Since the beginning, there's been this thing called Nemesis. Nemesis has always been a pacing mechanic, but every implementation has been different. This time around, it (and its accompanying bits) worked like so:

Step two in character creation, after we've got basic concepts and names, everyone creates three Relationships for their protagonist. (I) Someone who controls something that you want. (II) Someone who wants something that you control. (III) Someone who is currently an ally, but has cause to betray you. This is what we came up with:

Qumar Gae Wa Phan, Peter's Auspicious Circle witch, advisor to Hanshun Da Pudao. I've gamed with Peter since 6th grade, 7 years ago.
(I) Hanshun Da Pudao, of the house which controls the planet Phe, has family connections that could let him spark a war between the Navigators and the Auspicious Circle.
(II) Aviva Senla Ora, duchess of the planet Cerom, thinks Qumar's soul-splitting techniques can grant her immortality.
(III) Fedhman Kassad, who is an operative of the Inauspicious Circle. Can't possibly get along for too long.

Fedhman Kassad, Reed's Inauspicious Circle assassin, contracted to kill Aviva Senla Ora. Reed's another friend from middle school, but he's only played one session of D&D that Peter ran a few months ago. He is thus entitled to name his characters after the hero of his favorite novel. If he doesn't, what'll he post about on RPG.holonet in 20 years?
(I) Aviva Senla Ora, who can grant him power and legitimacy.
(II) Lord Mao, president of the congress of the Inauspicious Circle, who wishes revenge against Fedhman for breaking his sister's heart.
(III) Buq Cho, who is loyal first and foremost to his profits.

Buq Cho, Ryan's pirate captain with lots of gun-fu and a little untrained telepathy. Ryan's only played two sessions of hippie-tainted D&D run by yours truly before this.
(I) Qumar Gae Wa Phan, who can teach him advanced telepathic techniques.
(II) Che'we Ozo, from whom he stole or won his spacecraft.
(III) Fedhman Kassad, who is paranoid and secretive.

I got out a big piece of paper and we wrote up the names of all the protagonists and Relationships, along with What They Want and What They Control. Every time a new NPC came up, we threw their name up on the paper.

Then we buy stats and so forth. Every skill, technique, &c. costs Nemesis. We then total Nemesis up, and callibrate it so that the most powerful character has 15 points. We ended up with Fedhman Kassad 15, Qumar Gae Wa Phan 14, Buq Cho 7. Nemesis is important because if you have the lowest Nemesis, you get to frame the next scene (although you can't frame two in a row). You want to frame scenes because (a) duh, narrative power, (b) when you frame a scene you refresh your Willpower, which is used to get bonus dice and for Awesome Psychic Kung Fu, and (c) when you share a scene with a Relationship, you get Experience Points! Woo! 1 point for simply sharing the scene, and a 2nd for calling on the rules to resolve a conflict with or about the Relationship. Each time you frame a scene, your Nemesis ticks up by 1.

We got through six scenes:

1: (Ryan) Buq’s ship (with Fedhman on board as a passenger) has stolen a hefty grain cargo near the Phe jump point. They warp to the Cerom system, slip past the patrols, and head towards the planet. Buq and Fedhman take a shuttle to the surface; it is established that Fedhman has procured invitations to the Duchess's upcoming ball.

2: (Peter) Duchess Aviva Senla’s ball. She and Hanshun Du Pudao discuss problems with the grain trade. Fedhman, posing as a charity representative ("charity" meaning "security contractor for food transport and storage"), arranges to meet Aviva at a later date. Qumar warns her through a Remote Contact that the man is a member of the Inauspicious Circle. She is put on her guard, but she will still meet with Fedhman.

3: (Ryan) Buq leaves the ball for a spell, accompanied by Fedman. He encounters a pirate that he’d had some conflict with in the past. The two mess up the pirate and his guys something aweful. Buq takes a bullet in the shoulder, but grits his teeth and bears it. They return to the ball in time for Buq's ESP to pick up Qumar's use of Remote Contact. Peter played the enemy pirate in this scene.

4: (Reed) Fedhman’s date with Aviva. He convinces her that her brother’s desire to gain the family glory through military conquest with the Justicars is dangerous and unfounded. As he leaves, Aviva's contracted Navigator, Kos 13/402 mono-thiri ob quadri-keto-di, makes his presence known. He politely informs Fedhman of his suspicion (Inuspicious Circle stealth techniques screw with Navigator computations and prescience; a Navigator can tell when an operative is present, but not what the operative is doing), but remains non-agressive.

5: (Ryan) Buq, his business completed, leaves Fedhman to find new lodgings and takes his ship out of orbit. Back in the Phe system, he sees Che’we’s ship heading towards the same point off the trade route that he plans to lurk at. After an extended silence, Che’we and his Navigator Faiyo 73/882 hepa-thri ob oka-oka-di calculate the conditions on Buq’s ship, then open communications, claiming they just want a cut of the action (Lies!, though Buq falls for it). A ship carrying refined ores approaches. Buq hails them; they agree to hand over 40% of their goods without resisting after contracting the system-control Navigator for a cost-benefit computation. During the transfer, Buq gets gredy and tries to take the whole thing, while Che’we swoops in to attack. Buq’s crew defeats both enemies. He leaves a few of his men on the captured pirate shp and puts all the prisoners on the abandoned transport. Peter played Faiyo and Reed played Che'we in this scene.

6: (Peter): Qumar and Hanshun Da Pudao discuss the recent piracy in the Phe system. Pudao laments that Qumar can’t compute for him, and sends him to discuss the problem with Kos. Qumar requests an audience with Aviva, and she sends away everyone but Kos to meet with him. He talks to her about the piracy problem; she refers him to Fedhman. Kos expresses his skepticism. Qumar Remote Contacts Kos. They talk over the link; Kos informs Qumar that the Duchess is recalling troops for more intrasystem security. They each posture a bit about who could kill you with my mind! more efficiently. Qumar decides to maintain the telepathic contact, in spite of Kos’s request to break off. Kos accepts his decision with the mental impression of a bow.


  • It ran smooth like glass. Play was driven and given direction by Nemesis, Relationships, Willpower, Experience Points, and the big list of ways to get bonus dice on your tests. No big climactic scenes, but there shouldn't be. Big climactic scenes start happening when people hit 21 Nemesis; at the end of the session, Nemesis scores were 16, 16, and 10. We're on course to finish the game in 3 more sessions, it looks like; we play again on Wednesady.

    There are, of course, a few places the RAW diverged from the rules in practice. One or two minor combat tweaks concerning wailing on a whole bunch of lesser opponents. A little something to make a damaged force hurt more in large scale conflicts (like the ship to ship boarding actions we played through). And I'd planned to give the first scene to the GM to frame; the way it worked out, that just wasn't necessary.

    I'd also like to add something to let me, the GM, tag events for revisiting in later scenes. Buq beat the crap out of an old enemy; I want that enemy to come back! And Fedhman sprang for some expensive gifts to get bonus dice during his date with the Duchess; the debt will need to be repayed.

    But yeah, we're all looking forwards to next Wednesday.
  • Jeph,

    Wasn't this the WH40K/Chronicles of Riddick/Metabarons style thing you were kicking about a few years ago? That looked neat-but-unpolished at the time. Once you have a workable manuscript I'd love to take a look and do the usual pre-press pull-apart.

    Also, wasn't Fedhman Kassad a character in Hyperion?
  • Hey, Jeph, you're over 18 now, right?
    So I won't get in trouble for saying this?

  • Seriously, that's excellent news, Jeph. You're just radiating excitement. When can we have a look?
    Posted By: Jeph(I) Someone who controls something that you want. (II) Someone who wants something that you control. (III) Someone who is currently an ally, but has cause to betray you. This is what we came up with:
    That's really cool.
  • edited August 2007
    I think you solved Adam Dray's problem with Verge. I'll have to tell him.
  • Hey amn, I was a big fan of the original*... the new version probably looks nothing like it :-), yet I'm really interested to see where it's come. I'm sure there's nothing more exciting than writing RPG notes on your summer vacation before college starts, but if you happen to have that chance to summarize the rules, go for it!


    * I still hold "There's your Number. Roll as many dice as you want. G'wan." is revolutionary, even if it doesn't make it into the final version.
  • Rich, I have no idea how you could assume that the Fedhman Kassad of Exemplar has anything to do with the Fedmahn Kassad of Hyperion.

    (And while we're on names, Faiyo was actually Buq's Navigator... I don't think we ever realy gave Che'we's navvy a name. Oops. It'll probably sound vaguely Chinese or Arabic and have a q in it, when we get around to making one.)

    The rules doc is all typed up -- it's somewhere around 20 pages of rules-of-play and 30 pages of kewl powerz at the moment. If anyone wants a gander, drop me an e-mail and I'll shoot a copy your way.

    (Re:*: The core engine from Original Exemplar is not dead! I used it for my homebrew LotR game, after that, polished up a fair bit but by no means to completion... I've been meaning to give it the full treatment it deserves for Many Years Now, and will probably remain in this state for Many More Years. But it will be back! Eventually.)
  • Posted By: JephRich, I have no idea how you could assume that the Fedhman Kassad of Exemplar has anything to do with the Fedmahn Kassad of Hyperion.
    Dude, I read that book, like, 15 years ago! Remembering where the H goes; you should be so lucky when you get to my age!
  • I read that book two days ago and I forgot there was an h. :)

    I'm eagerly looking forward to more about Exemplar. It sounds like a lot of fun, as it has in basically every edition.
  • Thanks for the enthusiasm. :)

    I've been (naturally) thinking about how the game went and how it might develop, and I kinda feel that running with absolutely no GM prep between games is a bit like riding a bicycle hands free. It's exciting, it's mostly safe if you're good enough, but there's always a little potential to fall on your face and skin your knee, and then you're not going anywhere... so here's some shit that the GM should do between games.

    1) Big List of Unresolved Threads! Fedhman's supposed to be killing Aviva, but instead he's romancing her! And who the hell is his patron, anyway? And how's he going to pay for all the gifts he gave her? And what's the old friend that Buq beat the shit out of gonna do? And Che'we's definitely out for revenge. And Buq's got a hot cargo that needs offloading. And Aviva's been convinced that her younger brother should spend more time hanging around the homeworld. And Kos definitely has his intelligence officers all over Fedhman and Qumar.

    2) Big List of Stuff That Could Happen! Fedhman's patron gets impatient, and sends someone to either give him a shove in the right direction or else to the job for him. Buq's old friend, after healing up, joins forces with Che'we and plots REVENGE! Kos, fearing that Hanshun Da Pudao is too influential with the Duchess to be advised by a witch, discretely and politely attempts to get Qumar replaced, and possibly disposed of.

    3) Work Through the Coloring Book! Flesh out all the little bits of fluff that get generated during play. Stat up characters that have been introduced. Maybe give names to those who are lacking. Create visuals and... whatever the social/cultural equivalent of visuals are... for the places that the characters hang around at.

    Also, I want to be able to introduce a scene every now and then, too. Maybe even scenes with none of the protagonists... just meanwhile scenes to bring the plots and machinations of Relationships and minor characters to the fore. Hand out a character to each player, get everyone good and reminded about who's doing what. Maybe give the GM the option of taking a scene each time you cycle through the players completely (like, the GM can only take a scene if every player's had at least one scene since the GM's last turn).

    Lastly, a thing I noted, looking over the player's character sheets.

    Extra successes from one test roll over onto another. On Qumar's sheet, next to Aviva's relationship entry, Peter's scribbled "4 raises -> mental attack." Reed's scribbled down "Raises: 2," no notes on context, though I think it's also about sway with Aviva.

    I should probably provide some space for it on the next draft. :)
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