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) Buqâ€™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 Senlaâ€™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 heâ€™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) Fedhmanâ€™s date with Aviva. He convinces her that her brotherâ€™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 Cheâ€™weâ€™s ship heading towards the same point off the trade route that he plans to lurk at. After an extended silence, Cheâ€™we and his Navigator Faiyo 73/882 hepa-thri ob oka-oka-di calculate the conditions on Buqâ€™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 Cheâ€™we swoops in to attack. Buqâ€™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 canâ€™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 Kosâ€™s request to break off. Kos accepts his decision with the mental impression of a bow.