The Excellents rules
The Excellents: Rules summary
This is meant to be a brief rules summary, enough for people in play by post games to reference during the planning stage and actual play. The full rulebook includes more details, several charts and lots of other samples, several pregenerated Princesses and two sample adventures. If you're interested in this game, please support the publisher and grab a copy directly from their website or DriveThruRPG.
The Excellents uses a system developed by 9th Level Games called Polymorph. It's a very rules-light system where every character gets a single die to roll during the entire game from a set of polyhedral dice. So one player may get a four-sided die (d4), the next a six-sided die (d6) etc. There are currently two games out, released in 2020, with two more planned during 2021. Some may take place in the same universe or setting while others are totally unrelated.
Games of the Excellents take place in Awesome World. This is a very broad G-rated setting that blends the feel of many old-school cartoons. The rulebook includes some samples of items, beasts, places and characters you may encounter but your imagination is the limit. I've pulled inspiration from 80s and 90s cartoons such as the Smurfs, Snorks, Gummi Bears, My Little Pony and many others. You can also look towards more modern media like the Trolls movies. Not much is really set in stone, other than there being a mix of humans and animals/beasts, that magic exists and that we are all playing school-aged Princesses who are in a band and more importantly each protect a Realm.
Every player creates a Princess character by filling out a Princess Diary character sheet. Despite what the name suggests, a Princess can be of any gender. Your Realm helps determine your name and should be something specific that your Princess is totally obsessed with and/or knows lots about. Every Princess gets a role: Magical, Brainy, Charming or Tough. This archetype can help you develop your character and determines the one die they get to roll. For example, I play the Princess of Coloring Books (Magical One) in one game and the Princess of Euro Board Games (Brainy One) in another. You pick a Crown to resemble your power and a Beast friend that can help you out if you fail at something. Next you pick out your Shoes (may help with certain activities), Book (with hopefully useful knowledge), Sword (weapon of choice, can be unconventional) and Heart (what drives you). And that's basically all there is to it! Once your character is created, you can optionally introduce your character with an Origin Story about how they came to live in Awesome World.
As The Excellents is inspired by cartoons, a single adventure is called an Episode. If you want to play a campaign that is called a Season which can have as many Episodes as you want. As seen on the Episode Script template, there is some info revealed before the game starts. This can be determined by a GM or a collaborative exercise between players. The structure of the episode script means you can also play without a GM and alternate who narrates consequences and introduces new hurdles.
An Episode needs a Big Bad, someone who opposes the Princesses, threatens Awesome World or is otherwise in conflict or causing trouble. A Big Bad also gets some Lackeys, which can be regular unimportant dime-in-a-dozen type of Lackeys and/or Named Ones. Named Lackeys get a bit of personality and are less weak (like the leader of a pack) and/or of some significance to the Big Bad (like Gargamel's pet cat Azrael). A Big Bad always has some sort of secret and until you find out what that is, you're at a disadvantage whenever you face them (more on disadvantage in the next section).
It also needs a Shiny Thing, which is something to drive your episode forward and often the thing that you and the Big Bad are in conflict over. There are 5 categories: Moxie, Treasure, Glory, Secrets, and Rosebud. The rulebook gives samples of what fits under each of these categories, but none of them come with special rules. However, they certainly help to inspire everyone to think of different things you can feature in your stories. I also strongly believe they help set a tone for your adventure, so for myself, I have summarized them as such:
- Glory for adventures with very big tasks/high stakes feel
- Moxie for lots of fighting/direct confrontation with the Big Bad and his lackeys
- Secrets if you prefer stealth and conversation over battles
- Treasure for something heavier on exploration/travel or one focused on greed
- Rosebud for stories focused on friendship and character building
Finally you pick a place to start and a place to end. It's okay if your story ends elsewhere, but it's a nice tool to give the players a feel for where they are in the story (near the beginning, middle or end) and it helps flesh out the setting a bit before play actually starts.
Every player only ever rolls a single die. The Magical One has a d4, the Brainy One uses a d6, the Charming One grabs a d8 and the Tough One gets a d10. The character sheet shows you what numbers you need to roll to succeed so your assigned die will make you better at some things and worse at others. The GM will ask a Princess to make a Sword, Shoes, Hearts or Books roll depending on what you're trying to accomplish:
- Sword is for fighting or defending something.
- Shoes for other physical activities that aren't fighting.
- Heart applies when using your attitude, exuberance, caring, and/or love.
- Book when doing something that uses your brain, such as executing an idea or needing knowledge.
Crown and Beast work a little differently. For your Crown, you should color in the number that matches your die type/highest number (i.e. 6 for Brainy). You'll get to use your Crown whenever you roll the highest number on your die. It triggers an automatic success! You get to narrate how you use the power of your realm to help you succeed. Rolling a 1 triggers your Beast instead. You failed, but if you may narrate a way for your Beast to swoop in and turn it into a success. If you can't think of a way your Beast can help, it's a fail.
You only EVER roll your own die. Usually you'd roll it just once, but when you are advantaged or disadvantaged you roll twice. The GM will let you know when this applies. Advantage can occur when doing something that matches your character's things (like dancing when wearing ballet shoes), but also against unnamed lackeys (they are weak!) or when being helped by a NPC or Princess friend. Advantage means rolling twice and only needing to succeed once. If you don't succeed in rolling a target number, rules for Crown and Beast still apply. You get disadvantage when rolling against the Big Bad before finding out their secret. You may also sometimes get disadvantage when your missing something important (which makes for a useful hint!) and rarely when attempting something very difficult. With disadvantage you need to roll twice, but succeed both times. While not clear in the rulebook, I've always played it so Crown or Beast would also need to be rolled both times to active on a Disadvantaged roll.
Anytime you fail a roll, you earn a Lesson Tokens (including when your Beast couldn't help). Lesson tokens are a group resource that be turned in to resolve issues or trigger a montage or flashback, all without requiring a roll. Once per episode, you can decide to spent lesson tokens up to the amount of Princesses and perform an awesome musical number. The more lesson tokens spent, the bigger your effect can be (talk to the GM for approval). It can teach a lesson, change a heart, do something magical – there really is no limit to the power of a great musical number! Each Princess explains their part of the music video or the part of the song they perform. At the end, someone summarizes the song's lesson or goal and result.