Review: Exemplar the RPG

Do you find that your current RPG moves too slowly? Is there too much time exploring and searching and not enough time spent killing things or blowing stuff up? If so, then the Exemplar RPG may be right for you. Exemplar is designed with one thing in mind, combat. Everything else is secondary or ignored all together, except explosions. Explosions are key to advancing your character. The more explosions caused by a character’s actions, the faster that character advances. Nothing else matters.

But what is Exemplar? Well, Exemplar is a light-RPG set in the far future, where humanity is spread across several stellar systems and it is ruled by the Intergalactic Government and Church (IGAC). The player characters play powerful characters either in the employ of IAGC or fighting against it. Within this framework, everything is geared toward making combat fast and furious. Downtime is frowned upon. In fact, the overall tone of Exemplar has a very Paranoia-ish feeling, with situations and events relying heavily on the whims of the GM. This can be immensely fun for a few sessions, but doesn’t lend itself well to a long campaign.

The game itself clocks in at 32 pages, half of which details the rules for character creation and combat, the other half covers NPCs and details a short scenario. The first thing to notice is that Exemplar is played with 1-sided die. That’s it, no other dice needed. Secondly, the dice are only used during combat or whenever a character attempts to perform some action whose outcome is unknown. Everything else is done using points. We’ll get to that. Let's start with character creation.

Creating Your PC

A character in Exemplar consists of a unique set of ability scores, one set for physical (Styles) one for mental (Metaphysics). A point buy system is used to determine the initial starting points for each ability. Styles increase in increments of 5, while the Metaphysical ones increase by 1. Additionally, Styles whose score is 15 or above have Talents associated with them. A Talent is a field of the Style in which the character excels. For instance, a character may choose the knife-fighting Talent for his Prowess Style. A Talent adds a bonus to a characters combat roll when used. A character’s combat abilities are split into Melee and Missile. One of these will be the best score between Prowess and Wits, while the other will be the lease, or, each may be the average of Prowess and Wits. Also associated with Melee and Missile is a favored move. A favored move is concatenation of a combat move, a weapon and its results (single target, light wound, pistol). This leads to one negative about this game. The rules could stand a good going over. Some things, see favored moves, aren’t necessarily explained well, or at all. Its obvious a lot of time and effort has been placed into this game, a little more would make understanding it easier. Characters that have points in the Metaphysical attribute Insight may also learn a Technique. Techniques are akin to feats and allow a character to perform certain actions such as adding bonus to himself for combat or causing a penalty to an opponent in combat. Two other unique ‘attributes’ a character has are Plot Points and Nemesis.

Spending a plot point allows a player to take over the story for a particular encounter and affect the situation in some manner that doesn’t involve controlling other PCs or Named NPCs. Anything else is fair game. Plot points regenerate at the beginning of each session so they should be used liberally. This is an interesting twist which gets the characters more involved in creating the scenes played.

Nemesis is basically fate. As a character progress upwards, he gains Nemesis points. Nemesis points can be used to affect the outcome of die rolls. When used this way, a check box is marked next to Nemesis. 5 marked boxes cause Nemesis to increase by 1 point. When Nemesis is at 5 and its 5th check box is marked, it goes back to 1, not 6. However, the GM must decide on a Fate for the PC. Using Nemesis points brings a character closer to his Fate. When the Fate Nemesis is at 5 and the 5th box is marked, a character becomes free from Nemesis entirely, but gains permanent bonuses to certain abilities. The odd thing is, while the rules make it sound like a character’s Fate is a bad thing, there is no way to actually meet his fate. A character will hit the magic 5th box and be free from Fate entirely. The Nemesis section, while interesting, needs some re-tooling to make it work better.

Combat

Combat itself is fast-paced with a unique mechanic for determining hits and misses. Basically, combat begins when one character decides to attack another character. This may be at range or in close quarters combat. The initiator decides on a number of dice he wants to roll. He then adds any bonuses (subtracts dice) or penalties (adds dice) then rolls. He must roll his appropriate combat rating (Melee or Missile) or less. If he makes his roll, then the opposing character rolls, using at least the same number of dice as the initiator. The first person to miss his roll gets hit. Bonuses and penalties are subtracted or added depending upon a character’s Talents, role-playing, favored moves, assistance from others or Techniques. The first to miss a roll gets hit and damage is dealt. The victim now becomes the new initiator.

The first interesting thing to note is that making a roll does not mean a hit. In fact, it means your opponent misses you. This seems counter-intuitive. Secondly, a bonus means subtracting dice from the number you roll, thus making it easier to roll below your rating while a penalty means adding dice making it harder. This is also counter to the usual meanings of bonus (get something) and penalty (lose something). While the combat mechanic is certainly different, the counter-intuitive nature can make for confusion. It could be re-worked to achieve the same affect, but in a more natural manner.

Damage is dealt when a player misses his roll. The winning player gets Effect Points equal to the number of unmodified dice he rolled. Also, if a special type of attack was used (heavy, light, favored move) then adds/subtracts appropriately. These EP are then spent on one of the following effects: Wound, Disarm, Push, Other (GM approved). The number of EPs spent on an effect is the chance out of 1 the effect occurs. The player then rolls a 1-sider and if his roll is less than or equal to the EPs spent, the appropriate action takes place. Additionally, each effect also has an effect when the roll is unsuccessful. This leads to another interesting feature of this game. There are no hit points. As seen in the above list, characters don’t take damage, per se. They have things happen to them, being knocked down or knocked out are common. Death seems to not be an option. The Other category may be a catch all, but allowing Death as an effect of one hit makes combat very short, not to mention lethal. While keeping in the apparent spirit of the game, it may not be fun for anything other than a one or two session campaign.

The Rest of the Story

The remaining portion of Exemplar details various NPCs, the history of the IGAC and a short description of its military order, worlds and governance. The included scenario is short and details the mutiny of pro-revolution forces onboard an IAGC starship.

Exemplar relies heavily upon the GM to make snap decisions in game about the difficulties of actions and what the appropriate outcomes are. Also, the GM must work to keep the action going and to ensure that stuff blows up so that the PCs can advance. This is definitely not a setting for an inexperienced GM. In fact, a group’s enjoyment from Exemplar will lie entirely in the hands of the GM. Although not meaty enough for a long term campaign, Exemplar, with some work on the GM’s part, should provide enough entertainment for a few sessions break from a group's normal gaming campaign.


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