A Look at Exodus System SRD
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Beware: this is a reading review!
What Do You Need to Know?
Exodus System SRD is an old-school D&D RPG by Jacob DC Ross. It is inspired by games like The Black Hack, Adventurer Conqueror King or Numenera.
The purpose of the Exodus System is to give you a genre-free, easy-to-customize game.
The 41 pages PDF is available for
$4.99 $1.99 HERE. You’ll also get a Word document that you can use as a base for your creation.
Exodus is only a ruleset document; you get no setting.
Generation surprises me with some new ideas. The system marries the concept of old-school D&D with some ideas from more modern games like Cortex Plus.
Exodus uses the classic D&D attributes (Strength, Dexterity, etc.) but with a twist. Every quality gets a die size. Typically it is a d6, but one stat receives a d8.
I like the next bit: you get to pick some roles. You have one Party Role, Combat Role, and two Flavors to distinguish your character from everyone else.
Character creation is where the system shines. There are no classes.
Party Roles determine hit points and abilities/benefits. Let’s say you choose the Technician. One of the abilities is:
Handy: Choose a type of task that involves using your hands to fix, operate or build something. This can be surgery, computer hacking, repairing machines or anything else. You gain Advantage on that task. Each time you select this ability, choose a different task.
Combat roles determine damage, armor and fighting abilities. Let’s take an example from Sneak:
Vanish: You can disappear by rolling Dexterity successfully. You only need to roll against the highest applicable Action Die among observers. If you select this ability more than once, you gain+1 to the attempt each time.
Flavors remind me of the trappings from Savage Worlds:
These define the source of your power and help to inform your abilities. Flavors set you apart, mechanically and story-wise, from other characters.
You get two Flavors at character creation. Examples include Aware, Mutation, Companions, Noble, Speed or Energy. Flavors appear to be a mix between “superpowers” and backgrounds.
The book comes without mechanics for species. It asks you to use Flavors and descriptions.
Exodus also has a simple skill system. You get three skills at character creation. But there is no list of skills; you need to come up with yours. In this regard, Exodus reminds me of games like Whitehack.
Each rank gives you a +1 bonus to its associated tasks.
Leveling uses a milestone/story-reward system. No XP for gold.
Characters are more competent than in a standard old-school game.
Task Resolution and Combat
Attribute die + skill bonus vs. Target Number, roll higher.
This strikes me as elegant. I like roll-over-systems, it feels natural to me. Exodus also uses the Advantage/Disadvantage mechanism.
Interestingly, you can see the influence of the story game Free Universal in Exodus. Crits and Fumbles result in a “yes and” or “no and”. So, the Game Master (GM) will offer you a benefit for a crit or complicate your life with a fumble. The “and” is up to the discretion of the GM. There are no premade solutions.
I also glimpse some ideas from Index Card RPG. For example, with Complex Tasks, you whittle down the “hit-points” of the task and make progress that way. Exodus also has Task Timers to enforce a sense of danger and urgency.
The author stresses that combat should not be the default solution. I appreciate that, and it fits the old-school tradition.
Having fragile characters enforces this principle in other OSR D&D systems. I’m not sure how Exodus wants to accomplish it. Characters are more heroic from the get-go than typical.
The game is standard D&D with combat rounds, initiative, etc. It uses hexes as a measure of distance. 1 hex = 2 m/6 ft. That reminds me of The Fantasy Trip.
Attacking usually means rolling against your enemy’s Action Die. Roll four dice, one to represent your Dexterity or Strength Attribute, one for your enemy’s Action Die, one for damage and one for any Armor. If you exceed your enemy’s roll, you do damage equal to your Damage Die result minus what the enemy rolled for Armor. The process is the same for defending against an enemy’s attack except that you only use Dexterity as your dodging Attribute.
I applaud that Jacob included a combat example. So characters have their gimmicks, but it still feels much like D&D. The game looks fun!
And What Else?
Monster have HD (Hit Dice) and an Action Die like player characters.
Here is an example:
Swordsman, 5 HD, d8 Action Die, 1d12 Damage, 1d4 Armor. Special ability: Step up your Action Die by 1 when attacking with a club.
Damage and armor value depend on Monster HD.
Gear uses the Usage Die mechanism from The Black Hack to model attrition.
The vehicle rules look neat. Every vehicle has an Action Die, and everyone chooses a role.
I welcome the tools for the Game Master. For example, we have an encounter generator, enemy generator, and an adventure site generator with traps.
I didn’t understand the rules for how to create an Enemy Roster.
Look, Layout, Misc.
The text could be more precise at some points.
The game falls short on the layout. A little bit of attractive styling with a beautiful font would have gone a long way. No digital bookmarks, no table of content. For a price of $5, I expect more. 1
The Black Hack sets up a good example: the PDF ($2) looks lovely, but you can also get a free plain text/markdown SRD version.
On a positive note, the complete text falls under the OGL.
I have respect for the author, Jacob DC Ross. He strikes me as an enthusiastic role-playing gamer and philanthropic member of the G+ RPG space. (The Zach Best Benefit Bundle comes to mind.)
Yes, the ruleset delivers on being simple and genre-neutral (geared towards slightly heroic antics). I love the open design: no classes, free-form skills, mix character roles. I like the task resolution and the combat system. Within its scope, it offers a lot of flexibility.
It pains me to say: I don’t find the game worth the price of $5. Exodus System SRD has some neat ideas. With its lackluster presentation and the high amount of alternative (free) games, it still falls short.
Edit: Jacob lowered the price from $4.99 to $1.99, so I’m inclined to be less harsh.
I would have liked to see it as a Pay-What-You-Want product. Then add a “premium PDF”. It could have a nicer style, some artwork, digital bookmarks and “exclusive content” (e.g., more roles).
Again, this is a reading review, so take it with a grain of salt.
Go HERE if you want to take a look and form your own opinion.
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Jacob lowered the price to $1.99 as a reaction to this review. ↩︎