Monday, September 30, 2013

They're Just Exalting Anybody These Days

We have another submission, this one from Qwertystop! This one reminds me a lot of my own experiences in running for new groups, although the sheer diversity of horrors is impressive.  A quick guide to the colors: his comments are in cyan, (and the white text is his, too) while mine are in green.

Well, here we go, then. I decided to run a one-shot Exalted game at a summer camp one week. Nobody else had ever heard of the setting, and only one other person had played any form of tabletop RPG before. We decided to let him co-ST, with him handling the fluff and me handling the crunch after I give him a basic plot that I got from Meschlum. My RPG experience was limited to play-by-posts. All in all, nobody really knew what they were doing. Blue text will be used for information for people who don’t know Exalted.

I’m cringing already. Exalted is not my first choice for new groups; the fluff is long and elaborate, and the crunch is a bit spasmodic in its power level but does a great job of getting across to the players that they can do basically anything, but probably shouldn't do anything too wantonly destructive. It’s a superheroes game that can make superheroes look boring. Done right, it’s an engine for churning out literally awesome stories that have this wonderfully mythic tone to them. Done wrong, everyone is a thermonuclear anime supermurderhobo, and the game’s mechanisms for encouraging exaggerated behavior can push the unprepared that way.

Everyone was a Solar (powers that are magical mostly in scale – human ability multiplied by several hundred). I made pregenerated character sheets for a bunch of archetypes and asked people to fill in the details like Virtues (a few personality traits that are mechanically enforced, though you can act against them by spending Willpower. Not good by default to have all of them high, they’re good in moderation and balance). We ended up with a bland warrior-type with a Grand Daiklave (massive sword), a sorceress whose player heard “over-the-top” and ran with it, a thiefish guy with an Orichalcum Sky-Cutter (magic gold boomerang) who wanted to get Conviction 6, everything else 1 (in other words, roll to not murder innocents, to not flee in panic, to act like you care, or to have any self-control), and a survivalist-archer who took Familiar (Tiger) and points in Ride. I put together a Martial Artist to fill in the gaps, specifically, those of having only one person capable of close combat and nobody with any points in Medicine.

That’s...a fairly good description of the above “thermonuclear anime supermurderhobo” phenomenon. Virtues never sat well with me, but they’re a necessary evil and actually explained mechanically as a part of the Exaltation, so I can live with them. I have more trouble living with a Conviction 6, Temperance 1 maniac. Whose bright idea was it to Exalt Hedonismbot?  

The basic plot was that there was a manse explosion a few days away, in the forest, where nobody had known there was a manse. That most likely means First Age stuff, so treasure and knowledge, plus possibly some meddler blowing the thing up. Hey, it was a oneshot and nobody knew the setting, I needed something basic. If you haven’t played Exalted before, here’s as much info on that as made it into this game: a demesne is an area where the local magic is more concentrated than usual. Odd things happen there. A manse is a structure built at a demesne which focuses the magic into useful things – usually a bunch of things integrated into the manse and one magical gem called a hearthstone which can be brought outside it. The First Age is the standard ancient-times-with-lost-knowledge-etc, as far as this game goes.

So everybody starts out in a bar, because we just needed a starting place. Nobody else had read the setting section of the corebook, and I’m foggy on a lot of the detailed places, so we just went with generic.

It starts out with the party hearing about the manse from some drunk guy. The thief threatens him with a knife (I told him he had to tone down his starting Virtues because of the cap of 3 at chargen, and he acted like he hadn’t when the game actually started). The warrior-guy grabs the thief and drags him outside, and everyone else follows – keep in mind that nobody had met each other in-character yet, we actually had to roll the clinches. I get that they don’t get the IC-OOC separation quite that well, and so my martial-artist comes up with a quick reason for everybody to be staying together so it won’t grate on me too badly. That reason is basically “hey, this guy’s a psycho and he’s obviously going to try to get to that manse same as the rest of us, so we might as well stick together and keep him in line.

Well, that was fast. When empathy, self-interest, and basic human decency fail, there’s always guilt and fear to get the party working together.

Just after that, we leave town. The archer calls up his tiger with Master Horseman’s Technique: Horse-Summoning Whistle (A Charm to call your mount to you, not limited to horses). Refusing to be outdone, the sorceress casts Stormwind Rider (Tornadoes as transportation). In the mild confusion of the sudden appearance of a tiger and a tornado, the thief is dropped. Everyone promptly botches all their attempts to catch him – we actually rolled this, and three clinch attempts (tiger, martial artist, and warrior), an attempt to run him down with a tornado, and a called shot to pin his foot to the ground with an arrow are rolled and miss. Luckily, the warrior has tracking Charms and catches him very quickly.

The thief, acting like nothing’s wrong (I swear the player was channeling Carcer at this point, and I don’t even know if he reads Discworld) offers to steal a couple of horses for them to catch up to the main group.

Fun fact: one in four new roleplayers is secretly a representative of the First Bank of Khorne. “KILL! LOOT! STEAL! KILL! LOOT! STEAL!” This is significantly more problematic when they can punch rivers in half.

Out of character, I look through the sheets and point out that between high Strength and Stamina, Athletics 5 , several wilderness Charms, and a Specialty in Carrying Things, the warrior could carry the thief plus any horse the thief steals and still go faster. I’m ad-libbing the exact numbers on carrying capacity, but it looks right, and the speed is straight from the rules. Everybody has a laugh. Right after that, the game is called off for a staff-meeting that unfortunately needs the room we were in – no other available space and the co-ST is staff anyway.

After that, the thief and warrior’s players leave because that was their last day, though the others were still there for a week. Lucky that they were together and split off from the party, I suppose. So we pick up the game that night.

The group is still going on towards the manse now, when we run into three bandits chasing a woman who is carrying a baby, because I wanted to demonstrate how much more powerful Exalts were than normal people.
The sorceress opens with Flight of Separation (turn into a large flock of small harmless birds – usually an escape spell), and flies to surround the bandits. Her anima (massive glowing aura) is going, because I wasn’t sure if it was supposed to go out when she changed or not, so the bandits just see a sudden blob of gold light full of pigeons rushing at them out of absolutely nowhere.

Yep, you’re playing Exalted.

Meanwhile, the archer flurries and shoots three bandits (two are badly wounded, one is missed), and I charge in with the full intention of just absorbing blows. I’m letting the co-ST handle what the bandits do so being a DMPC doesn’t mess things up too much.

All three bandits attack me, and, all are parried easily. Three more who had been behind catch up, and the sorceress starts reforming (Exalted uses a per-second “tick” system instead of a rounds-and-turns system, so things can happen at the same time and take different amounts of time. Sorcery takes a while, so it’s risky in combat.) at the same time – oops, it turns out she’s between the two groups after we work out the distances.

My martial artist smashes the first wounded bandit, and the second one gets an arrow shot through him into the second group. The third one keeps bashing pointlessly at my martial artist’s staff, then gets killed while the archer shoots into the second group. At this point, the sorceress has finished reforming and casts Death of Obsidian Butterflies (It’s like a sandstorm except instead of sand, it’s razor-sharp obsidian butterflies the size of your hand, and instead of flying around randomly, it’s a wide line all going the same way). All the remaining bandits are dead, and mostly on the trunks of the heavily-damaged trees. The woman we were saving is slightly splashed and very terrified. The sorceress decides to say “you’re welcome”, and the lady sprints. We let her.

So, that first fight’s over. We get to a very creepy area – the trees look almost like ivory, and the leaves look like iron covered in an oil slick (I was just trying to come up with random strangeness here). It’s the demesne.
The party hears a voice – “I hear you’re looking for my treasure. How about we make a gamble? You overcome my challenges, and you can have some of it.” Archer uses an Investigate Charm to search the area in a few seconds without moving, but finds nothing. The voice refuses to explain what happens if party loses. Being on a bit of an adrenaline high from the bandit thing, the party agrees.

A more normal thief-looking guy (not the PC who left) – drab cloak, knives, etc – steps out from behind a tree that “you’re pretty sure wasn’t there before” (my quote). He smiles just a little bit too wide to look real. Announces: “First challenge: Without moving from that spot, break this egg.” He places it in a sconce on the far side of a bit of wall that could have just been rubble from the Manse explosion, but almost definitely wasn’t there before, a good distance away. When the party asks if they’re allowed to turn around, the response is “you may pivot, but not step.” The co-ST was pretty good at that kind of just-slightly-off-creepiness when he got into the rhythm of it. So obviously, the archer tries shooting the wall, but can’t break through. Creepy-guy climbs on top of the wall, peeks over, says it’s been “incompletely fractured” and replaces it with another egg out of his pocket. The archer tries again, empowering it with Forceful Arrow, and a brick gets pushed out very neatly. The egg cracking on the ground is far too audible, and the creepy guy goes to sit on top of the bit of wall.

You can tell it’s a low-level game because they didn’t just use Perfect Poultry-Providing Technique to hatch the egg. Into a dragon.

“Second challenge: You have the advantage of numbers. How about we reverse that? Beat my friends!” Fifty very-similar people hop down from exactly behind him, on identical walls lined up as many yards into the distance, and get in a big circle around the party. I call for a Valor roll because of the crazy outnumbering: the two Valor-2 characters get a success each and my martial artist with Valor-3 botches, passes out in the middle of the circle This works out quite nicely, because I wanted to leave this up to the players. Stunted archery and the archer’s pet tiger take out goodish groups each, and for each one killed, two others die of similar wounds one-third of the way round the circle. The sorceress decides that her Flight of the Brilliant Raptor (it’s an exploding bird made of fire) is red, white, and blue. At this point, I just let her, so three large groups of clones die in fireworks while she, out of character, is cheering patriotisms (she usually doesn’t do that, so I think she was just getting carried away and trying to one-up the guy with the pet riding tiger again). At this point, the martial artist comes to, having done nothing.

I kind of want to make American Exalted now. I mean, I’m way too cynical to make use of the system, the setting, or even the basic trope structure, but it’d be hilarious. On a more relevant note, the STs here lasted an order of magnitude longer than I would have; Exalted is an easy game to lose hold of.

The original is a bit twitchy now. “Third challenge… … … Catchme!” and he sprints away. Archer tries to pin his foot to the ground – it turns to fog and reforms. The tiger claws at him, same story. Death of Obsidian Butterflies results in a spreading cloud of pink mist… that reforms into three tiny people that keep running and quickly rejoin into one, whose smile is now upside-down until he reaches up and twists it back to normal. Everyone tries to think of a solution OOC, and nobody’s quite sure what to do, including me – this was the co-ST’s idea, I’m just handling crunch at this point. Eventually, the sorceress tries to use Stormwind Rider – sends Creepy for a tumble, but he gets up and keeps going. Then the archer, riding his tiger, comes in and re-mists the guy, and he gets caught in the Stormwind.

“You have completed my challenges. I suppose I did swear… I will grant you each one boon”

And that’s when we noticed we were five minutes past curfew.

And there you have it, everyone. Next time, back briefly to SUETHULU.


  1. I really like this blog, man. I like the challenges. Uhm, words words, RPG, roll, words. Yeah. I'll be back tomorrow.

  2. This entry seems incongruously non-horrendous.

    1. Well, not everyone's experiences are as bad as the SUE files...

  3. Hey! The bad guy sounds like a Fair Folk! They're fun.