Exarch is a game of medieval scifi where the inhabitants of a small continent discover they are living in an ecology dome adrift in a shifting sea of mysterious abandoned rooms and empty corridors of some unknowably vast metropolis they call the Steel City. Expeditions go off in search of useful salvage or information before the city arranges and the prospect of returning home fades as the locations move ever further away from home.

It's an interesting twist on the idea of dungeon crawling, there and back adventures and magic as science. It's also philosophically interesting in terms of the way that the perceived and actual realities are played with.

The Exarch of the zine title is a kind of cybernetic weirdo that stalks the Steel City looking for prey. There doesn't seem to be any other significance to it. It's not even a strong motif in the rest of the setting.

The zine contains rules for creating random areas within the city and uses a mechanism of rolling on a random table based on the type of area and adding a modifier called "Depth" which reflects how far away from Home the group is currently. Each time the party explores you roll and add depth and create something based on the basic description within the book.

There are three types of areas described: Hydroponics, Medical and Parasite. Parasite is the most vivid with the interior of a strange flesh corruption of the city being the exploration site. Medical seems to provide the right mix of danger but also potential for reward and change in the characters. There are a lot of deranged medical robots that want to dismember you but cybernetic improvements replace the traditional magical items and medicine that actually works is valuable in any setting. Hydroponics is atmospheric, it feels the most like it is part of a strange malfunctioning city, but it's also kind of dull, there's nothing that the character's or their home seems to need her. There no ludic purpose to it and as narrative there no mystery in the area or any kind of thread linking the areas beyond the brutally pragmatic production line.

Initially I thought the random tables were meant to generate an area on the fly but this is actually a game that expects prep and for a facilitator to shape the randomly generated base material into something interesting to explore. That's pragmatic but the value of the product will be the strength of that base it provides you.

The basic "there and back again" idea of the Expedition works really well for me. There's the sense of a world revealed and powerful sense of being lost forever if you delve too deep. At the same time the idea of bringing back treasures works on both a personal greed and community need level. Parties can combine both motives without friction.

I find the high concept of Exarch really interesting, in many ways more engaging than the typical "almost medieval Europe" of a lot of fantasy games. However the details given in the zine don't really do credit to the high concept and as notes from someone's game it's fine but as a platform for your own ideas I'm finding it thin inspiration currently.


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