Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Exalted: So you want to specialize?

Another question I got asked is how do you specialize as an Exalted character in areas like Martial Arts, Sorcery, Crafting, etc? Beyond my advice for new players this is a more advanced area that intermediate players need to consider. So lets call this Exalted Player Advice Intermediate.

I'm going to feature each of the different area of specializes that Solars are good at and how to get the most bang for your buck early on and tips on growing the skill of this character.

Martial Arts:

Welcome to the GREAT CHARM SINK in Exalted character options. Even more so than Sorcery, Melee, or any other talent tree...with the exception of Lunar Knacks...Martial Arts as an ability has the most charms to buy. And that's the trap. You don't want to buy them all. At all. You want to specialize otherwise you'll have a character who is only half effective at any one time depending on weapon, form, and lack of other charms.

When you start picking Martial Arts charms you need to look for synergy. The first test is if the martial arts you wish to cherry pick charms from have complimentary weapons. If not, then you will be wasting your time down the line building up ties to artifact weapons that only support one tree. Now if you plan on being flexible it's fine to mix and match early on but don't dip into anymore than 2 martial arts trees. Sure you can focus on unarmed combat, but unless you have a form charm that grants you the ability to parry melee attacks, or deal lethal damage, you are in trouble.

The second big issue IS form charms. These are the mid tree power up scene long charms that change your character's fighting options. Forms are critical to signature combat styles when layering on complimentary charms for combos. If you are in a form that grants counter attack bonuses, and the charms in the tree seem to focus on that, suddenly charms from other trees that punch through armor or cause someone to fixate on you during combat may or may not help that build. (Unless you want to play a hypnotic, armor piercing, parry monster.) You can only have 1 form active at a time. Advanced martial artists do form switching in combat based on their current enemy, but that is a costly trick and better served when you Essence is higher and your understanding of switching weapon/attack modes can work to your benefit.

As you gain experience, style points, whatever 3E will give you to build you character consider a few things. Don't just buy Martial Arts charms. If you want to be a specialist, fine, but spend 2 to 1 on Martial Arts to non-Martial Arts charms. That way you can have critical things like Ox Body, Dodge Charms, and eh a few social/adventuring charms to round you out. Next early on don't worry about reaching the pinnacle of a tree. Use one as your primary, and master it's form and a few past it. But when you identify other form/styles that compliment yours branch out from there. Think about combos and work to tier them. Small 2 charm, fast but useful ones. Multi charm ubers. Etc.

A note about Sidereal Martial Arts. They are powerful...but broken in 1E (to a lesser extent) and 2E (to a greater extent). 3E seeks to address this by breaking up the tiers a bit and focusing more on the utility of Sidereal Martial Arts. Only Sidereals and Solars can learn them, natch. And eventually aiming for one as you top tier development is a good idea. But a Solar who's mastered 2-3 full trees with a background of additional charms will be more powerful in the long run than someone who's sacrificed all their charms to get only a few charms into a Sidereal Tree. Even Sidereal players need to be careful not to jump deep into their forms with out fleshing out their limited charm options.


Sorcery is a tricky bird. It's expensive in Charms, but not quite as bad a Martial Arts, however you can pick up spells that don't immediately help you. Some Sorcery spells are very situation, all are painfully obvious, and the essence cost can leave a Sorcerer hurting in situations like combat. That said, sorcery is a crowbar for almost any situation if you know how to utilize it.

Specialist Sorcerers need to first sit down and think of a few things. What is their theme? Are you a by the book caster? A shaman who learned magic from the world? Someone who listened to the whispers of Yozi's in their dream to learn? That can color the spells you pick. Next you need to ask yourself what role you want your Sorcerer to fill? Are you a crafter? A summoner/binder? A combat mage? With those choices in mind we move on how to pick your spells carefully.

First off 3E is going to offer charms that interact with Sorcery more. This is important. Do not spend all your charms on just sorcery or sorcery boosters. If you have 10 starting charms, set aside 4 for 'quality of life' things. Dodge, combat, social charms will keep your character alive to use their spells. Don't underestimate the usefulness of practical skills to keep you going. And the Excellencies to power them. Being an expert in Occult means more than just being good at spells. It means being a subject matter expert on demons, ghost, and gods. Lore is a catch all 'need to know stuff'. matching skill. Awareness, Investigation, Presence, and Linguistics will go a long way for you. Linguistics especially, because the more you know of Old Realm the better you are at dealing with spirits!

Spell choice is the next element of building your character. After you picked up the required charms to cast the spells, you have many options. Starting players may be tempted to step into Celestial Circle Sorcery starting out. And it is vastly more powerful than Terrestrial. The downside is the cost to do so will limit you to a handful of spells. This is something I would NOT suggest for new players. Focus on building a Terrestrial circle base of spells then using your ability to advance up the circles to your advantage as you grow as a character. (And btw: All this advice applies to Necromancers too! Necromancy is just Sorcery with a different thematic.)

Remember when I asked you to pick out your theme as a caster earlier? This is why it matters. There are a handful of spells that I'll call bread and butter, everyone  should consider options. But past that, learn to your theme! A demon binder will be less worried about things like enchanting others. Or a combat mage needs to drop spells into ranged or up close options. Etc. But getting back to those handful of great spells you might consider the list is: Death of Obsidian Butterflies (The ultimate mook killer), Stormwind Rider (Party transport), Summon Elemental (Less problematic than demons), Invulnerable Skin of Bronze (Self protection), and finally Emerald Counter-magic (unless it's not a feat in 3E). Just keep those in mind. Most folks who are up on Exalted lore will notice that the spells are a lot of what you'd see in the Black Treaties. There is a reason for that, they are excellent beginner spells. Having 2 or 3 of these will go a LONG way to helping yourself and the party.

A note about summoning. It's dangerous even with Elementals. The elementals have courts they communicate with and word gets around if you abuse your summoned aid. Demons are will live up to the spirit of their binding but if you give them too much latitude they might find outs to vent their demonic nature. Finally summoning is one of the most showy of all the spell types. You need a circle and lots of time to make it work. Also the amount of essence you will burn to browbeat a creature into serving you will leave you open to attack. So keep that in mind you newbie summoners.

Crafting and Evocations:

This is a little trickier but still very charm consuming. A good crafter will have multiple specializes in craft and odds are you'll invest half or so of your starting charms in the tree. I'm not sure how 3E will handle these but there is one Solar charm that is a must have. Craftsman Needs No Tools is the end all be all of the mobile Solar craftsman. Most other Exalted are okay with out a workshop, such as Lunars and Abyssals (if they have a supply of bodies). But others like Sidereals and Dragon Blooded are in a trouble. For Solars this is not a problem. You can be sitting on the side of a mountain using your bare-hands to repair objects, make a shelter, carve out sword from raw ore. You name it. Add to that Craft Excellencies and charms that reduce crafting time and I've seen a Solar in a day bang out a Battalions worth of perfect (Solar PERFECT) weapons and armor from raw iron stores. It's something to keep in mind when you consider the scope of Exalted abilities. (Mind you, I've seen Sidereals using one of their charms to take a complicated clock work and make it from raw materials in minutes...but only because they had a blueprint to work from.) Each Exalted type has strengths and weakness when crafting. Some of them are system design flaws the 3E devs are aiming to fix for the other Exalted. Because as it stands except for unique cases Solars are king.

This brings us to Evocations. Either as an artifact user or crafter you have to take the charm gobble that happens when learning and developing them. The devs have clarified that only Artifact 3 or above in 3E will have Evocations. Less than that and the artifact will have a non-Evocation minor magical effect. Such as a Collar of Dawn's Cleansing (keep me neat) effect. Evocations have the potential to be a charm sink much like Martial Arts, however unlike Martial Arts they are specific to the artifact your character is linked too. If you are playing a crafter or a warrior who's invested in your artifacts I would consider what iconic effect do you want the artifact to have? What evocation effect such as burning weapon, blinding light, enhanced movement, fits the theme of your character. Evocations are as much a part of who your character is as the artifacts and charms they have. Crafters will have to keep in mind that Artifacts 3 and above are costly and hard ventures to create, so invest yourself wisely when making them. But it does seem very awesome to be wearing signature gear you yourself made. Note that the devs have mentioned that Solars by default will get the most out of ANY magical artifact material or no's evocations.

Final suggestions:

Solars or Exalts in general are powerful generalists. Some types play better at it than others (Solars and Dragon Bloods mostly), but specialization of a character is never a bad idea. After all everyone wants to have something unique about themselves in the game. A lot of my suggestions above can be boiled down to specialize but keep a few charms in the pocket for plan B options and the reason for that is Solar's amazing generalization ability. Excellencies allow them to be master level of anything they are favored in, and if they dabble in charms in other skills they will gain the Excellencies. It's not unimaginable to play a Solar expert at all with a broad range of charms in many fields. But the down side of playing Mr. 2nd Best is you will outshine anyone who is just okay in skills and hog table time from others who spent a LOT of charms and points in building their specialists. A good rule of thumb with Solar characters are a nice broad base of skills and charms with a sharp spike of specialization in the 2-3 primary charm trees that match their theme. They will remain useful in a broad campaign and feel awesome when they hit their peak charms later on down the road.

Ta! Have fun building...when 3E finally drops.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Exalted Newbie Storyteller's Guide

So you want to run a game of Exalted. Well, as a stoyteller coming into the game right now my advice is to study up on the Exalted past and wait a month or three for the 3rd Edition pdf and Print on Demand to show up at Drive Thru RPG. Just to save you the insanity of learning 2nd Edition and the 2.5 errata.

Exalted from a Storyteller's experience can get expensive. But if all you wanted to do was capture the cure element of the game (Solars in Creation, as the returned Rulers of Creation.) Then each edition had a handful of what I'd call essential books.

1E had: Core Book, Book of Three Circles, Scavenger Sons, Creatures of the Wyld. And that was about it. If you got those 4 books you were golden. Heh. Maybe the Dragon Blooded book just to flesh out your foes.

2E was a bit tricker: Core Book, Scroll of Errata (basically the 2.5 fixes), The Book of Sorcery 1& 2...and ya. About there you can call it a day. Avoid the Scroll of the Monk unless you are using the Scroll of Errata.

3E thankfully is going to have a monster 500 page core book with loads of charms, spells, and martial arts to fill in the blank. And a huge monster rules set. The only other book you'd need in short order is the Arms of the Chosen which is in development to be right after it. Really.

There is also Qwixalted which takes the core ideas of the 1E Quick Play guide and expands on them into what is one of the fastest ways to get the core essence of Exalted play for new players.

But that's books, what about guidelines? Well, first I'm going to avoid talking about raw mechanics here. I'm very foggy on my 1E rules and 2E is fading from lack of use. I can only guess at parts of 3E so I'm going to give tips and tricks in a more "how do I keep this from running off the rails" fashion.

TIP #1: Invest in a combat tracker. Thank goodness 2E's tick combat rules are going away back to more conventional rounds. And multiple attack options are also being scaled back. Whew. As someone moving from 1E to 2E, that was some of the roughest elements to get use too. That said, from what I know about 3E it would be smart to invest in some small combat tracker. Either an app, or a white board, or even a magnetic board like Paizo sells. Being able to keep real time tracking of player movement and position each round is important. Very important. There are countless powers in all the editions of Exalted that bounce players up and down the iniative order. 3E's new Momentum mechanics will most likely add even more. It may be daunting at first, but having something you can write down, or swap players turn order quickly will be a god send. This avoids you missing PC or NPC turns each round. 3E may be faster to resolve, but combats still take time and if you don't keep track you can skip players and no one likes that.

TIP #2: Write up a player critical stat block. This includes critical information. Primary DVs (defense values), join battle roll, and Perception + Awareness total. I'd also include a line with important merits, and intimacies just for your reference. One of the important things is this will save you loads of time down the line when you have to make tests against the PCs. 3E is keeping the static DVs to hit and it's not that big of a leap to do something like Passive Perception by taking the average of (Perception + Awareness) and seeing if someone can beat that number against the PCs. The list goes on. This should fit on a 1 page sheet for ease of use.

TIP #3: Have the players do their math ahead of time. This is primarily things like, what is my DV in and out of my armor, what is my primary attack pool with and with out my weapon, how high and far can I jump from standing, (you'd be surprised how far Exalts can do it. The system is very Wuxia friendly.), and totals for my armor and soak. There are countless players who have problems doing the fast math in combat. Some can run the numbers in their head allowing them to complete their actions, stunts and all, in a minute or so, and others who sit there constantly re-figuring out their numbers every-single-round. Head that off by giving the players a list of things like this they need to have on ther sheet. It can be on the back in a "easy combat help" they write up. The examples I list here are just a start. I've also seen social combat (or influence) write ups, or key actions, etc. Anything they do frequently and need a starting number to go from when techniques and penalties are in play.

TIP #4: Write up an NPC outline. An NPC outline is major npcs the party will meet based on either location or scene. Write down name, primary intimacy(s) in play, and if important, social stats. That way if the party talks to them they can negotiate, wheel and deal, etc with out you having to  cook up every person scene by scene. That said, cook up say half a dozen random NPCs of various stripe the group can talk to if they swerve away from the story. Enough to see you through that session. Don't go crazy. Just the superfical elements. Read my earlier blog post about how to describe NPCs here and go to town.

TIP #5: Major social scenes could use a relationship map. It doesn't have to be complicated, but SO MANY social charms depend on a good working map of social relationships. It could be a bunch of names in bubbles with lines to each other. The lines could be stuff like: hates, owes favors too, wishes to murder, etc. When a social Exalt walks into a scene they will tend to 'ping' for information on their targets. Having a map in hand for a meeting helps. Only draw it for the major players there in, even if it's just 2 and the PCs. Because if the PC's forge a new intimacy with a get to add them to the map!

TIP #6: Avoid plotting your players into a corner. This is important to Exalted style play. Never write a plot for you game that had no "Kirk outs". in it. This referring to Kirk passing the Kobayashi Maru (a officer test in an unwinnable situation.) in Star Trek by cheating at it. Exalted is about overcoming challenges and exploring a fantastic world. One of the key elements is player agency. So remove it, via mind control, unwinnable fights, or forced decisions will really throw players off. That said, there is a fine difference between giving them a fun challenge and it being too easy. There are a lot of rules of thumb for Exalted play, but mine has always been: Everyone In to Win. Meaning that whatever the challenge of the adventure/current plot is all the players at the table have to help in some fashion for the group to solidify the victory. The Dawn must lead or fight, the Zenith must purify or preach, the Night needs to be sneaky for keen eyed, the Twilight needs to be clever, and the Eclipse needs to seal the deal. So to speak. Make sure you have events that highlight everyone and allow for players to use creative solutions you didn't think of. Then you should be doing fine.

TIP #7: Allow for dramatic deaths! Don't ever let a PC or NPC die like a punk if they are important. Mooks sure, but any major player needs to die with at least awesomeness or some dignity. If a PC dies from a drawn out fight against a powerful foe, give the player some parting words...or a death scene as they flicker in and out of consciousnesses as the villain looks over them to hear their last words. If a major NPC dies, make sure there is something lasting left behind either in an admission of the PC's power, or a important grave site, or something to say..."we did it!". Dying happens in Exalted. It's part of the drama of the system, but nothing ruins the fun than a quiet whimper of a death.

Tip #8: Ignore what you know about rewards from D&D. Exalted is not a game where the PC's can have a golf bag of Daiklaves, or any other artifact for that matter. The same goes with other merits like a keep, resources, followers, etc. Beyond character generation they have to slowly gain each. Now rewarding players with favors from NPCs, lore about their past incarnations, or training (sorcery, martial arts, etc.) are WAY more useful to an Exalt. I'm not saying you can't have new artifacts be a reward but it should be the end cap of a series of sub-adventures. Discovering clues to it's location, braving the Wyld to get to it, dealing with rivals after it, and then defeating the Behemoth (whatever) guarding it. It needs to be a story in gaining it...and now thanks to Evocations there needs to be a story based around keeping it! The longer an Exalt has a rating 3 or higher Artifact the more Evocations they can attach to it (if attuned.). This means events showcasing the artifact allow for the player to pick thematic Evocations that match the weapon's personality and their tie to it. The same goes for non-weapon but very powerful attuned artifacts. Finally attunement costs are important. If the players are using non-matching magical metal items, it will very limit their open essence for other things. A big reason why hunting Dragon Bloods for their artifacts is ill advised.

TIP #9: Take time to flavor text. Exalted is a massive strange world. It's pained with brushes of ideas from Earth civilizations of the past but mixed up in interesting ways. There is also a lot of fantastic geography and locals to visit. Or there would be if the players get a chance to visualize the locations. The books go a long way to describe the overall setting, but take time to flesh out a scene for something important. Walk into Nexus? Talk about the river barges, the smoking lower quarter with all the industry, the strange silver masked person who walks the streets making people bow. Go to Realm? Talk about the sweeping architecture, the endless palace mazes, and the throngs of servants moving around care for their Dragon Blooded masters. Enjoy fleshing out the locations as much as you do the characters.

TIP #10:Be willing to just wing it. There are times in Exalted play when the players do something weird, or the rules are foggy, and you just need to stunt, yell, and throw dice. Those times will happen at least once a session and you have to be open to the idea of doing that. Snap judgments and later book corrections are common early in your mastery of the system. Don't fret if you had to make a call and it turned out bad later. When in doubt use the Rule of Cool and keep playing. Otherwise, you will drive yourself crazy.

And there you go. My top 10 tips for running as a Storyteller in Exalted. Good luck and remember to be awesome. If you have specific questions always feel free to drop me a line.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Getting the Band Together. (Exalted Edition)

Before I get started on today's topic I want to direct your attention to Urs Reupke's new Exalted Random Android App. It's built on my random generator table posts from this blog! How neat is that eh? Here is the link:

Shortly after I posted my Exalted Players Guide I was asked the age old question. How does a Storyteller, GM, whatever get a group of powerful characters together? Which is funny because back when I use to host my Superhero Gaming Podcast (Meanwhile...The Super Gaming Podcast) this very issue came up and was a feature of one of my early episodes. I even spoke about Exalted as one of my examples due to it's power level.

Well since my podcast is now digital vapor (and a crashed harddrive) why don't I touch on the subject again in my blog for those Storytellers/GMs out there trying to deal with the issue of a band of powerful characters and why they would even get together in the first place. For my primary examples I'll use Exalted but will reference Supers games to broaden my material.

The primary issue comes up during character generation. Unless the group is doing a communal origin story (think Fantastic Four, which I'll talk about later) then odds are your characters come from half a dozen locations across the map. They all have ongoing personal back-stories tied to their intimacies and merits (or disadvantages, complications in super gaming terms). And just to add to the mess some of them at first glance would rather fight each other than work together. (The classic Necromancer meets Paladin issue.) So now what?

Primary Guideline: The party has to at least be willing to work together and the players have to put that possibility into their characters.

This is problem #1 actually. Before anyone starts putting pencil to paper or fingers to keyboard you must establish to the group where they are playing, the core focus of the game, and that each of their characters though from different backgrounds and ideologies would and can find the need to team up. This may fall under the rules of "The enemy of my enemy is my friend" to make it work with rival characters, but the players must make it happen. The Linowan and Haltan may hate each other's guts at a cultural level over their territory wars. But now that they both Exalted in the same region they are both are now targets of the Wyld Hunt. That necessitates some level of cooperation. (This is similar to the Wolverine vs Classic Cyclopes issues. But when the chips are down and people are in danger the X-men as a team are there.) If the players don't agree to this at a baseline level then stop the character generation and ask them why, because there are other issues going on then. Roleplaying is not about PVP in games like Exalted (or Supers, D&D, etc.).

With that Guideline in mind lets talk about strategies to get these characters together.

Technique #1: The Communal Origin

It's tried and true to have all the characters gain their powers at once. You may or may not have to run that first 'unpowered' session. I know a few Storytellers like offering players the Exaltation experience. But it's completely optional. Creation, like many fantasy/super settings, is a strange place. Major snarls in the Loom of Fate happen, and the players all gaining their Exaltations at the same times can be a fun and interesting ongoing plot to discover why that happened. Perhaps the Unconquered Sun consulted with the maidens and saw the need for a group of heroes to be in the right place at the right time and maybe a new dark force is rising up and they are given visions of it so they can gain in strength and discover the nightmare before it takes action. As a Storyteller you can weeve this overarching sub-plot in the ongoing adventure. Loads of foreshadowing, odd encounters, etc. Heck, you can also have some of their worst rivals and foes gain power from the same event. Wouldn't that be scary? Suddenly some of their old friends from home become Abyssals, Infernals, or Sidereals out to stop or corrupt them! (This is very common in super team books after the Fantastic Four for comics. But there are examples where one hero came out of the same origin as the group of baddies he fights. Kamen Rider and Static Shock come to mind.It's funny but the Exalted origin is very much like a Lantern Corp story. The rings of any color choose the person who has the qualities that makes them great wielders of the power and they are chosen.)

Technique #2: The Patron

There are no end to possible patrons that would bring a group powerful Exalts together. Sidereal Sifus, Lunar Elders, Powerful Gods or Elemental Lords, Deathlords, Kings and Queens, Guild Factors, and the list goes on. Each patron brings with it different obligations and offers to the group. This is the trick to using Patrons. They do not need to be more powerful than the PCs, they just need to be powerful to command respect and have something they can offer to keep the players interested. A mortal ruler may not have artifacts, manses, or training to offer Exalts. However a mortal ruler can offer a safe place for Celestial Exalts (and Abyssals, Infernals, etc) to operate with some level of openness in their kingdom. The clout to keep the Wyld Hunt at bay, or busy elsewhere, and the connections to offer them safe haves and resources to carry out their own agenda...for a price. A Sidereal Sifu might be the Professor X to a group of players but he will have rules and tasks they must accomplish while under his patronage. Just like Professor X wanted the X-men to present themselves as a force for good as mutants so the hating world would see them as heroes and not monsters. So a Gold Faction Sidereal would want the Solar/Lunar/Whatever Exalted acting as positive and helpful paragons (or close enough) so that followers would come to their banner. In comparison a Deathlord wouldn't care about celestial PR and be all about killing and taking that they want in the name of power and glory. Maybe. That's up the patron and their chose of actions.

Technique #3: In Media Res Blue Booking

Who the what now? In Media Res, in the middle of the action, and Blue Booking is an old gaming technique term of writing up back stories and downtime events on the side when not gaming. The technique is about starting a game with the group already established and having smaller away from game communal writing, or mini Storytelling session to go over how the characters met each other. The Blue Booking style depends on how your group is playing, how much down time they have when not gaming. Online games can use chat sessions with the ST, or maybe co-written in character fiction submitted for ST approval. Whatever is done make sure the characters use powers and do things in the scope of what they can already do. You can push boundaries if you want but get the ST's blessing when you do. (Or the ST/GM can be nice and offer suggestions.) As a ST/GM I'd give the players who did these backstory events or write ups bonus XP for doing them. Let them spend it right away. You can claim the new skill or talent came out of them talking about events in the past and shared flashbacks. These flashback events are GREAT ways to fill in for missing player sessions. The only catch is new powers and stats might need to be unused to simulate the older version of the character. I'm less worried about attributes and abilities (skills and stats) as I'd be over charms and spells. (Powers) It's very much like how comics do little recons via flashbacks. Wolverine meet Mystique years ago, but doesn't acknowlege it because they had a love child they both don't want to murdered for being their kid. (Or a Solar pre-exalt met their Lunar mate and they had an affair but neither new the other was anything more than mortal at the time. Years later that awkwardness comes back when they start remembering and talking about the shared past. Ya drama and romance plots.)

Technique #4: The Cold Start

I went over so many different names to call this: And then you wake up, Castaway, The "Lost" Effect, etc. But all these different styles all amount to the same. Some outside force draws the players together against their will and they either wake up, crash into each other, get marooned for a time, are put under the same curse, etc. The downside to this technique is it removes player agency which is a BIG thing in Exalted (or Supers) games. You have to handle this carefully. Now if I was to do it, I'd have the characters drawn together by either a common cause or new foe toying with them. Examples would be a dying Elemental altering the landscape to make one last request to the Princes of Creation. Or a Fae Lord toying with them by 'writing' them into his story and making them wake up as guests in his palace offering them prizes if they can best his challenges. Things like that. It would be the rarest of starting tools, but I wouldn't rule it out. In darker more morally challenging plot lines it would be a great way to put the players off balance at first or to bring vastly differing ethnic/moral characters together at first. (Like a Deathlord pulling them into the Underworld via powerful Necormancy to ask them to secure magical bonds that keeps his "master" from waking up! That would get a group of Exalts hopping.) Comic books use this rarely as well, but I've seen a few times be used like the recent Avengers Arena comic where Arcade captured a lot of X-men and Avenger teens and threw them into his new Murderworld to build his rep by having so-called heroes kill each other off.

Technique #5: The Call to Action

Rick Jones needs help dealing with the rampaging Hulk gets on a radio and calls for the Fantastic Four. Loki interferes with the broadcast and a group of unlikely heroes answers the call and they go on to become the Mighty Avengers...wait. The forces of Apocalypse begin an invasion of Earth and overwhelm individual heroes and the military, so a group of heroes drawn to the incursion team up to push Darkside and his forces off Earth later going on to form the Justice League...wait. The idea is the same no matter the source material. Something BIG happens and the PC's are drawn to the event. Now in terms of Exalted this would have to be something significant, like say Mask of Winters attacking Thorns big. A perfect example of this would be a Gem coming under attack and sending out calls for help against strange Locust people. Or if you want something new for 3E? How about the Niobraran League rising up from the ocean being lead by the Chosen of the Depths to attack the West? (How very Atlantis Attacks from Fantastic Four days eh?) Or perhaps a Hulk-like Exigent who has poor control of his or her powers raging in the East and Guild puts out a quiet call for aid so the Seventh Legion of Lookshy doesn't discover their illicit activities the Exigent is disrupting? Or Gethiman Exalts but comes under attack by the Wyld Hunt, Rakan Thulio makes the players believe this is a new Solar Exalted in dire need and tricks them to coming to the rescue. He just hopes their strange black and white anima banner (Confirmed from Holden) doesn't tip them off right away. The list goes on.

Technique #6: The Big Event

My last suggestion in this post combines a lot of similar reasons why Exalted (Superheroes, adventurers) meet up. A big shindig. It could be a party, a contest, a full blow tournament, or anything where you are in a large social setting that would attract the characters. Key part being attract them. The onus is partly on the Storyteller to come up with a reason why the PC's would be interested. Usually the invites to these events are tailored anyway. Perhaps a local lord is looking to curry favor from the powerful new "god bloods", or a Sidereal is manipulating the guest list to spy on the PCs by judging their reactions to the guests. Whatever the reason for the get-together there needs to be a second step to the process. A catalyst to move the PC's to act. This can be an attack on a party, being called out by a new rival, a contest of skills gone horribly wrong. The key to this Catalyst is it needs to be outside the scope of the original event and interesting enough to get the PCs to commit to the action. Again, this requires a little tailoring. Perhaps a minor local god calls them to act as Princes of Creation, or a ghost who sense their essence covertly calls them away to ask for their add to protect their family, estate, etc. Usually either someone at the party knows they are Exalted, or finds out shortly after their arrival. You can allow the PC's to discover each other, but it can be trick. Either way the reveal will be slightly awkward, but once the PC's have been pushed/asked/threatened into acting most groups gel rather quickly.

And there you go. 

Those are my top 6 ways to get a group of powerful characters to act together as a team when they normally might not. Each method has it's benefits and drawbacks and you can mix and match the above if you will. For example Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are a communal origin with a patron/sifu in Splinter. The trick if you blend techniques is to resolve each origin/event individually while pushing the other to the background plot until you reach a stopping point or resolution on the first. As in the case of TMNT, the Turtles first resolved their patrons issues with the Foot Clan before discovering the secret of their communal origin with the TCRI Aliens and the mutagen. So taken from an Exalted poitnt of view the PC's might have exalted around a strange monument while saving the life of a Ronin Sidereal who begins teaching them about Exalted life. They help him resolve an issue with his Getimian rival before discover the nature of the monument as a Lunar Sorcerers attempt to create a mini Caul but accidentally damaging the local skein of Fate casing them all to Exalt around the same place and time. Once discovered they are pushed into a battle to repair the damage before a Fae Horde uses it as  an entry point from the Wyld.

Have fun!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Exalted Beginner Player's Guide

So you want to play Exalted. Either you found a group online who is willing to play 1st or 2nd Edition, or you are waiting to pick up 3rd and give it a try. But as a new player you have no idea how to build a character. Sure, you may read the lore in the book and think playing a Solar from Lookshy sounds cool, especially with the military family background, but you have no idea on how to build an effective character. Exalted has and will have it's share of pitfalls for new players so here is my rough guide on how to build a character and ideas on how to hopefully have fun and contribute to the game.

NOTE: This is from the POV of playing a Solar. Other Exalts are similar but have unique spins on issues like Charms and starting options. It is also based around what we know so far on 3E using what I remember of 1E and 2E.

Attributes -

When you sit down to spend your attribute and ability points the first thing to remember is your character had something special about them. Something that qualified them to be chosen by the Incarna to become an Exalt. This can be spectacular skill, fortitude, charisma, or just effort. Whatever that quality is it is best to focus on one or two primary abilities and matching attributes.

For attribute dots an accomplished warrior would have good Dexterity, Strength, and Wits. A Cunning Spy would have Manipulation, Dexterity, and Perception. As you assign you attribute dots don't be afraid to specialize. Due to the exponential cost of exp advancement attributes over abilities cost far, far, more.

Abilities -

Ability dots should be spread out more liberally. Don't over focus on any one skill expect for those critical to the theme or background of your character. Keeping this theme in mind will allow you to place your higher dot allotments in those area of focus while leaving some much needed 'well roundness' that allows for a character not to be sidelined during scenes.

Even though when you spend your freebie points you will want 4s and 5s in your favored specialties don't forget to cover some basics. Drop some points into a combat skill, defensive skill, integrity and resistance are good spends, and awareness if you want to be fast on the uptake. Now if you wish to play a more passive character consider marital arts as there are martial arts moves and charms that are non lethal. Every one can get something out of dodge, especially if you are not a melee or martial arts monster. Even a 1 point dip can be meaningful after a very short time.

This brings me to the first major tip in Exalted.

SHARE THE LOVE - No matter where you spend you points, charms, or merits don't fixate on any one element. Specializations do not need to come at the cost of character effectiveness. This is very important early on as not having a solid foundation for a character can leave critical weaknesses. You can if you wanted too dump all your points into Martial Arts, Dexterity, and Wits. Then dump all your charms to master a Martial Arts tree (well, as much as you can). The same goes with a Sorcerer who buys only spells and charms to enhance them. The catch is charms cost less than attributes and abilities down the line. Saving on early costs by spreading out a few points into social, knowledge (lore, survival, etc), and combat skills to cover your bases early on pays off on later development. 

Remember Exalted get free Excellencies now in 3E on their favored abilities. Also in 3E if you buy 1 charm in an ability you get the Excellency as well. This is VERY important. Excellencies are the bread and butter of what makes Exalted more than human. Even low ability, attribute mixes with an Excellency can feel powerful. At least useful.

Merits -

This is a tricky part. Merit buying is a one time deal at character generation. All future developments in this area are directly tied to what you do as a character. Want a larger number of contacts? You'll be out talking to people and trading favors. Need a new artifact? Go hunting in tombs or build your own. Etc. The tricky part of spending your starting points is you only get so many and there are dozens of things you'd love to pick up.

If you want to play a beastman race you need to dedicate a few for racial features. The same goes for any of the alternative human sub-races (created by Exalts). Once that is done look at what type of character you are building.

Artifact and Manse buys are very tempting. The catch to them is they tie up elements that would enhance  your character theme. A Dawn Warlord might want to focus on Resources and Command. A Zenith might enjoy Boundless Endurance and Pain Resistance. And so forth. Social characters with out Contacts are asking for trouble, the game goes with sorcerer characters with out Language so they can read/speak Old Realm.

Just keep this in mind when buying mertis. Note, Evocations only come into play on Artifacts 3 points or higher. Daiklaves in 3E are now rating 3 because they can develop Evocations! If you have an Artifact or Manse/Demanse above a 3 point merit it's going to be noticeable and coveted by others. Keep this in mind as well. Having an edge is great, but not if it turns into a liability. Just think of the character back story and theme to guide you.

Charms/Evocations -

This is the second place you can trip up as a new player. Don't get me wrong Charms and Evocations are where a character pushes beyond mortal. However if all of your free choices are dumped into one or two things you might run into issues down the line. However 3E giving Excellencies to caste and favored abilities goes great lengths to fixing this. Now the issues is just how deep you go into any one trick. You can spend (just about) all your free charm picks in one or two trees. If it was something like Melee or Martial Arts it may not be so bad but it will leave you open in other areas that will benefit you down the line. This brings me to note 2.

REMEMBER PREREQUISITES - Seems silly but it is an issue. I can't tell you the number of times new players started cherry picking charms out of the trees not paying attention to the Ability and Essence requirements. And this goes for things like Sorcery charms and spells. Remember, you can buy the foundation charms now to pick up advanced elements later.

The key idea is to dip a bit more into your specialty of choice. So if you have 10 charms, dedicating five for it and then spending the other five in additional useful charms will help you a lot. The good news is a lot of the early charms in trees tend to have low cost high yield effects. Look at Salty Dog Method from Sail, it has a massive no-cost list of benefits that happen when you are on anything that counts as a ship. But lets look at a few important areas.

Melee vs Martial Arts - Melee is a crowbar of combat. You can attack, defend, counter attack all in the baseline tree. For Solars it is one of the most efficient trees. It has a very linear growth and eventually a player would have to dip into Evocations with their signature weapon to really customize their attacks.

Martial Arts has many trees, but each focuses on different attack styles and weapons. It is a swiss army knife that changes based on the charms/attachments you put into it. Key to Martial Arts is the form charms which allow (often) lethal hand damage, parrying of melee weapons, and unique scene long benefits. If a martial artist is working on honing their art they will focus more charms on the trees and less on evocations. Unless they are specializing in one style. But that's the catch, really good martial artists as they grow in power will pick up multiples.

That's the trade off. If you want just to dip into Melee the Excellency and one or two charms will do. If you want to dip into Martial Arts, try to aim for the form charm if it is not too  deep in the tree.

Sorcery - This can be tricky. Going full in grants some amazing feats you can accomplish. The catch is however you will lack much else to do and Sorcery is a BIG give away you are not mortal. It's impossible to hide it. Starting out with a handful of useful spells is amazing though. Summoning Elementals and Demons is like having a multitool you have to negotiate with. Travel spells are a godsend for a party on the move (but in 3E they may not be as powerful as in 2E...but this isn't bad.). And Ritual of Elemental Empowerment is like being a magical gadgeteer.

Attack spells are costly and may or may not be useful so keep that in mind. Death of Obsidian Butterflies is a great mook cleaner but does not much against armored Exalts. Often a good Sorcerer will dip about 5 charms into their spells at first, and then pick up dodge and archery or thrown to have a more dependable ranged attack.

Social - This is going to be WAY different in 3E. First off merits that tie into charms will be important early on. So keep that in mind when buying merits like Followers and Contacts. Also the social influence system will reward you for doing ground work. It's less overt mind control from prior editions, but you still can put the mental whammy on people with your charms. Picking up 'info' charms like Know the Court, Judges Ear, are going to be you big foundation. Mastery of Small Manners, etc. These are how you can walk cold in to a scene and pick out your target to use your social excellencies on.

And what social charms you pick up depend on your intended social styles. Presence is great for one on one. Performance for group actions. Socialize is for moving through various social strata smoothly (think covert but in the public eye), and finally Bureaucracy is perfect for pushing buttons against faceless organizations. Pick you weapons carefully, or dip a charm into each and use your excellencies early on until you develop more specialized charms. Note that Linguistics holds a lot of the more subtle social tricks like seeking socalize actions and encoded messaging. Just keep that in mind.

Intimacies -

Virtues are a thing of the past. So are Motivations. In their place the Social Influence system has stepped up. What we do know is that it is much toned down from the days of 1E and 2E Solar mind control. Merits that grant you social benefits can be used to greater effect and all of this will tie back into your intimacies at a character level. Now how the Great Curse will play in or how the dice to mechanic will play out? No clue yet. That said there are a few things I want to point out about Intimacies for new players.

Personal with Societal - It is perfectly fine to have a mix of lesser personal intimacies detailing your characters life, loves, hates, and wishes. But it is also helpful to add in elements of their background society. Perhaps a Realm born Solar would like to be acknowledged as a person and not monster by his people. A person from Paragon wishes for freedom for their people from the Paragon. Or maybe you want to be the most celebrated Scavenger Lord of all time. However it goes the key element is Intimacies are varied in both an internal and external.

Change - Intimacies are not static. And it's important for a player to grow and change theirs over time. The character is not a mountain, even though Exalted they have mortal desires and worries. If you meet someone and they seem important to your character then take the time to establish and cultivate your connection to them. The same goes for oaths, personal beliefs, and maybe regional plans as a Solar. If you don't then it WILL come to bite you down the line. One of the classic avenues of attack vs someone is to erode their Intimacies. It's not mind control, but you can alter someone (even your PCs) hard held beliefs to make them more open to outside influence. Build up your mental connections, I have a feeling they will be important in the new social influence system.

To end my newbie guide I want to highlight one of the big changes the developers have told us. The power level of the game is slightly lower than 1st and 2nd Editions. This was to cut out the overpowered travel and social systems. And also to drive down die pools vs target numbers. Now, you will still be throwing buckets full of dice, but that will be at more critical moments. The other big change is the 1000 Dooms that pressured characters into trying to "save the world" right away are diminished or gone. In their place is more local issues and worries. This is not to diminish the scope of the game but to give it much needed focus. Accomplishments in nations, or local regions, matter more now. You might eventually bring you game to  taking over the Realm, restoring some of the 1st Age's lost glory. Or you can carve out your own Empire from the Lap to Nexus and forge your own legacy for years to come. That's one of Exalted's big strengths and this refocusing is an attempt to restore that joy and potential from earlier editions crisis bloat.

So I hoped this guide helped and have fun playing!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Exalted Storypath Dice!

Welcome to my next big random generator table. This one builds on the idea of the "What is wrong with this Village" and ties back to my original "Filling out the Map" blog post. I present to you Exalted Storypath Dice! It uses a d100 roll to generate story tags for either locations on a map, or events in the series the Storyteller is running for you.

This is how it works: 

If you are mapping out locations in Creation do it with roughly 50 mile hexes. Then as you work your players into random hexes roll the following (or choose).

1-3- Minor Location -1 roll on table
4-6- Important Location - 2 rolls on table
7-9- Critical Location- 3 rolls on table
10- Major Event - 4 rolls on table

Try to keep the 10's rare. If your explorers have already had one in 3 previous rolls, ignore it.

If you are mapping out a location yourself then feel free to use these table rolls as plot guides. You can set your own number of rolls based on locations.

Alternatively you can if you are running a more plot-centric game can instead focus on narrative chapters and milestones. Each event can get a numbers of rolls based on how important that scene is. Use the above table if you want it to be random. But once you have the number of rolls you then roll on the table below. 

Which ever of the above ways you roll up the story tags on the Exalted Storypath you use the results to flavor up the location or event your players have stumbled upon. Use the number of rolls and then roll below using a d100, ignoring duplicates.

1-Local Murder
26-100 God Heresy
51-Unbound Demon
76-Newly Exalted Solar
27-Local God
52-Bound Demon
77-Solar Survivor
3-Peasant Rebellion
53-Infernal Exalted
78-Solar Followers
4-Missing Person(s)
29-Celestial God Visitation
54-Yozi Dreams
30-Seasonal Court Politics
55-Raksha Commoner(s)
6- Kidnapping
31-Yu-Shan Politics
56-Raksha Noble(s)
81-Jadeborn Servant
7- Feuding Families
32-Godly Debauchery
57-Faerie Host/Hunt
82-Wild Demesne
33-Sacrifice Ritual
58-Fair Folk Celebration
83-Broken Manse
34-Desecrated Shrine
59-Fair Folk Slave/Follower
84-Unclaimed Manse
10-Local Festival
35-Exalted Cult
60-Guild Caravan
85-1st Age Ruin
11-Fugitives Running
36-Forbidden God
61-Slaver Caravan
86-1st Age Tomb
12-Legion Scouts
37-Ancestor Cult
87-Wyld Zone
13-Realm Magistrate
38-Hungry Dead
63-Scavenger Lord
88-1st Age Temple
14-All Seeing Eye
39-Intelligent Undead
64-Tomb Robbers
89-Wyld Freehold
15-Realm Diplomat
40-Ghostly Request
65-Lunar Spy
90-1st Age Forge
66-Lunar Warband
91-UnExalted Sorcerer
17-Full Legion Marching
42-Abyssal Runaway
67-Lunar Shaman
92-Marital Art Dojo
18-Wyld Hunt Spy
43-Abyssal Knight
68-Lunar Follower
19-Wyld Hunt
44-Deathlord Army
69-Sidereal Spy
94-Lost Artifact
20-Immaculate Monk(s)
70-Sidereal Sifu and Students
95-Getimian Exalted
21-Dragonblooded Circle
46-Deathlord Visitation
71-Ronin Sidereal
96-Liminal Exalted
22-Outcast Dragonblooded
47-Hekatonkhire Incursion
72-Sidereal  Fate Troubleshooter(s)
97-Dark Ritual
23- Immaculate Missionaries
48-Creature of Darkness/Outside Fate
24-Lost Egg
49-Neverborn Dreams
74-Black Market Exigent
99-Incarna Visitation
25-Retired Dragonblood
50-Demon Cult
75-Unknown Exalted (Alchemical/Other?)
Remember. These are suggestions. You can tie the elements together, ignore ones that don't fit, or just play them down as background elements. This is just ideas to help you build a plot, scene, or location.

For Example if I was mapping a hex  out of my self created Hundred Kingdom:
(Important Location -2 rolls) - 43: Death Knight, 32: Godly Debauchery - That gives me an idea of local gods angering the local dead and a Death Knight has come up to Creation to investigate and punish the gods for their behavior. The players can support the gods or knight, and their choices will allow for a new plot thread.

Or I'm running a DragonBlooded game and my group is just about to reach The Lap in an Critical event but there are things going on.
(Critical -3 rolls) 2: Bandits, 96: Getimain Exalted, 74: Black Market Exigent - Oh man. It is Critical. A Black Market Exigent is leading a bandit group in an attack on Realm caravans out of the Lap. And there is a mysterious rival bandit lord (who was thought dead) showing up with using his own unique powers to fight the Exigent. Is it a new Exigent? The DragonBlooded players don't know much about Getimain's.

And there you go! Have fun rolling up random Exalted Events!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Random Exalted Fashion!

Okay. You've spent hours cooking up an Exalted character. Got the points spent, the charms picked, and every little detail mechanically you can think of fleshed out...then someone at the table asks you: "So what do they look like?" Now normally you'd have an idea of what they look like from where they came from...but that's the catch. Exalted is what happens when someone throws every fantasy kitchen sink they can find into a blender and turn it into a fine grainy mush. It has Chinese, Japanese, Greco/Roman, Native American, European, Anime, High Fantasy all mixed together in this unique mash up. So fashion outside of things like coats to keep you warm in the winter, or unique artifact items, can be very...very...random. So why not a random table for that too?!

Let's get this party started.

The way I have this broken down is 2 primary defining costume elements, then 2 accessories.

Roll once for Primary Costume Piece, once for Secondary Costume Piece.
Then roll once for Primary Accessory, once for Secondary Accessory Piece.
Finally roll twice for Color scheme. (1st is Primary Color, 2nd is highlights)

Let's get started:

Primary Costume Piece (This is the foundation)

  1. Exposed Chest (Bare/Bandage Wrapped)
  2. Tight Leathers (Smooth/Metal Barbed)
  3. Loose Monk Robes
  4. Parade Armor (Filigree Breastplate/Interlocking Shoulder Plates)
  5. Flowing (Dress/Toga)
  6. Worker's Slacks and Smock (Leather/Denim)
  7. High Collar Uniform (Roll on Pattern Table for unit symbol)
  8. Metallic Body Wrap (Chain/Plates)
  9. Organic Decoration (Plant/Bone)
  10. Roll on Secondary Costume Piece Table and use that result as your primary element. If it has contradictory elements consider them layered either top/bottom or mingled elements. Ignore duplicate rolls or 10 again.
Secondary Costume Piece (This is the first accent)
  1. Kilt
  2. Leather Leg/Arm Wraps
  3. Martial Arts banding/wraps
  4. Extra Body Pouches/Bags
  5. Cummerbund/Heavy Belt
  6. Flowing Cape/Trench Coat
  7. Shoulder Cape/Poncho
  8. Spiritual Vestments (Roll on Pattern Table)
  9. Utility Vest/Jacket (Tool pouches)
  10. Roll on Primary Costume Piece Table and use that result as your secondary element. If it has contradictory elements consider them layered either top/bottom or mingled elements. Ignore duplicate rolls or 10 again.
Primary Accessory (Time to add some flare)
  1. Military War Fan (Folding/Solid)
  2. Fully Body Jewelry (Roll on Pattern Table for design)
  3. Prayer Beads
  4. Detail Body Tattoo (Roll on Pattern Table and Color Table)
  5. Detailed Clothing Pattern (Roll on Pattern Table and Color Table)
  6. Long Scarf/Obi (Belly Wrap)
  7. Impressive Sandals/Boots
  8. Religious/Family Tabard (Roll on Pattern and Color Table for design and primary color.)
  9. Multiple Piercings (Metallic/Bone)
  10. Roll on Secondary Accessory Table and use that result as your primary element. If it has a contradictory element consider them layered either in different locations or mingled together as one. Ignore duplicate rolls or 10 again.
Secondary Accessory (More flare)

  1. Multiple Heavy Rings (Roll on Pattern Table for design.)
  2. Headband (Metal/Cloth)
  3. Large Belt Pouch (Detailed Leather/Sagemono aka. Lacquered Box)
  4. Mask (Roll on Pattern Table)
  5. Collar (Ex-Slave/Choker)
  6. Spectacles (Functional/Jewelers)
  7. Ritual Scarification (Roll on Pattern Table)
  8. Bells/Mirror Adornments
  9. Impressive Hairbrush. (Roll on Pattern Table for design.)
  10. Roll on Primary Accessory Table and use that result as your secondary element. If it has a contradictory element consider them layered either in different locations or mingled together as one. Ignore duplicate rolls or 10 again.
Color Table (Roll twice the first is your primary color, the second is your highlights. Additional rolls happen on tables above.)
  1. Red
  2. Orange
  3. Yellow/Oricalcum
  4. Green/Jade
  5. Blue
  6. Indigo/Starmetal
  7. Violet
  8. Black/Soulsteel
  9. White/Moonsilver
  10. Gray
Pattern (Roll this is prior rolls asked for it.)

  1. Dragon
  2. Demon
  3. Elemental
  4. Ghost/Skull
  5. Fey Creature/Noble
  6. Sun
  7. Moon
  8. Stars
  9. Geometric
  10. Nature (Animal/Plant)

BONUS: Hair Style (Very optional, but fun! For Extra fun roll on the Color Table.)

  1. Long loose/bound
  2. Close cropped
  3. Bald headed
  4. Military Top-Knot
  5. Unkempt Medium Length
  6. Mohawk
  7. Cornrows
  8. Braided
  9. Buzzed/Near Shaved
  10. Crazy Kabuki
And there you go! Have fun rolling up your random Exalted fashion. There will be stories alone tied to the very outfit you ware. This is just for entertainment and player/storyteller ideas. Use it for NPC generation too!


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Random 1st Age Flashback Generator!

One of the defining elements of Exalted roleplay is that your Exaltation carries with it the memories of it's prior possessors. This means you as a Storyteller and Player get to roleplay cool flashback scenes, and there usually is a merit to reflect a more powerful connection to these memories via Past Lives.

I don't want to admit the number of times I wrote, rewrote and then scrapped this post until I finally came up with a workable model. Part of the weirdness of flashbacks from the 1st Age is they can be disconnected from your character. While your caste may be Eclipse (diplomat) the current incarnation may be a military advisory to a king where as before you were a beloved celebrity.

The key issue was how to frame the tables in a not-quite a mad lib style so Storytellers can take the results and come up with a playful roleplaying story. After much going back and forth I finally settled on a Caste based system. 5 Castes, 5 primary roles for Solars, and 2  tasks for each. War vs Peace. The big elements in Solar life. But Solars being the multifaceted beings they are I don't specific which is which. Each ST can either roll below, or pick the one relating to the activity the Solar is doing.

First we roll up the driving action. What was the Solar doing?
  1. Sought
  2. Examined
  3. Taught
  4. Altered
  5. Defeated
  6. Retreated
  7. Spoke
  8. Slaughtered
  9. Enjoyed
  10. Humbled
Next we qualify that action:
  1. Training
  2. Battle
  3. Religious
  4. Purification
  5. Discovery
  6. Destruction
  7. Investigation
  8. Spying
  9. Exploration
  10. Negotiation
Then each one has a antagonist/conflict source:
  1. Mortals
  2. Gods
  3. Elementals
  4. Fair Folk
  5. Demons
  6. Ghosts
  7. Exalted
  8. Outsiders
  9. Family
  10. Unknown
Now we roll up an important element, the impact of the curse on your actions:

1-7: While in control of themselves.
8-10: While under the control of the curse!

Now there is the final element of resolution or lesson and it comes in 2 categories. The first is rolled if you got 1-7 on last roll:

  1. Successfully and with additional benefit to themselves.
  2. Successfully and with additional benefit to the Exalted Host.
  3. Successfully but with help of others.
  4. Successfully but with a great personal cost.
  5. Successfully but with unknown future results.
  6. Successfully but with new complications.
  7. Unsuccessfully but with personal growth out the experience.
  8. Unsuccessfully but with a potential to turn it around later.
  9. Unsuccessfully but with a successful alternative task.
  10. With no clear outcome...the memory grows murky.
This one is rolled if you got a 8-10 on the curse roll:
  1. Unsuccessfully but with little to no cost to yourself.
  2. Unsuccessfully and with great cost to your reputation.
  3. Unsuccessfully but with a great cost to your friends and family.
  4. Unsuccessfully and at the risk of the Exalted Host.
  5. Unsuccessfully but with mysteriously no reaction.
  6. Successfully but due to a sacrifice of people or resources.
  7. Successfully but with the help of those you rather not ask for aid.
  8. Successfully but at a cost of your soul or sanity.
  9. Successfully but only because a great betrayal.
  10. With no clear outcome...the memory grows murky.
So let's take it for a spin a few times. (NOTE: The trick is to supply your own link words. Some results may seem weird but if you get something like Defeated + Destruction it could mean you stopped aka. Defeated an attempted Destruction. So the mad-libs happens between the key words.)

Slaughtered (during) Exploration (of) Outsiders, While in control of themselves, And was successful with additional benefit to the Exalted Host. - Hmm, sounds like my Solar was out exploring something like the elsewhere when strange creations beyond creation attacked. I slaughtered them and gained rewards that helped the host in future battles against them.

Enjoyed Discovery (with) Family, While under the control of the curse!, But only through a great betrayal. - Oh dear, looks like I was researching with my family but had to betray one of them to succeeded. The curse drove me to care more about my success than my family! I dread to think what I did....

And so it goes. Give it a try and see what you think! Have fun!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Meerkat steals the spotlight...the big issue with Lunars.

Exalted has a character type called Lunars. For those that don't know they are (or were) Shapeshifting, war machines, who suddenly in 2nd Edition were big into social experimentation. The weirdness of this description is part of the problem with the Exalt type. Looking back at 1E I was always curious what they were going to be but they had a few issues during their creation:
  1. Early in the corebook development they were said to be Loki-like Byronic heroes who use illusion and trickery coupled with powerful animal traits but Grabowski (1E and early 2E head designer) mentioned that illusion powers were more in the domain of Fair Folk and it didn't quite fit with the Lunar ethos. So by the time the 1E book dropped, these traits were minimized. Changing-Moons suddenly had what remained in the form of Anima illusions. The rest were related to shapeshifting charms.
  1. Lunars also had one of the most mechanically weird to describe charm sets. Building their charms based on attributes and not abilities made the clean 5 way divide of Solars moot. In it's place you have a incredibly over focused combat tree (and massive ability bonus), the slightly less useful and costly Social tree, and finally the extremely costly and very limited mental tree. Basically the character mechanics made it undervalued to be anything but a combat focused monster.
  1. What did the Lunars DO for the 1000 years after the usurpation? Sit around in the Borderlands of the Wyld fuming? It seemed that way, there was little talk about how they impacted the Realm, even WHY the Realm would bother hunting them? 2nd Edition tried to fix this by giving them the Thousand River Dream where the Lunars were doing social experiments to replace the Realm with something new...but it was so passive and overly cerebral for a so called Byronic hero.
  1. 1st Edition Lunar were too close in many ways to the Werewolves (and werecritters) that inspired them. They even had a copy/paste social mechanic of renown and honor from the then old World of Darkness Werewolf book. It didn't work in terms of Exalted's resource mechanics and 2E's take on it didn't add anything. Even though thankfully they toned it down.
  1. Finally, and most painfully they had so much potential. I think this is why Lunars keep dominating forum chatter on Exalted types. The lore of them, the short descriptions from promo materiel and books hints at potentially great beings who trick people, steal faces, have vast sorcery powers, but the final book we get doesn't quite deliver. We are left wanting and fan fixes only wet out appetite for what 'could have been'.
I have my theories on how this kind of character can be made more interesting and useful in Exalted 3E but before I do so let's talk about what we know the devs are doing with Lunars:

They are going to be devastatingly badass in a fight. I am lining them up to be able to take on Infernals. I want a Lunar swordsman who is just as capable in a fight as a Lunar going full-time DBT. Lunar thematics will be more tightly focused on the dualism of a "good" person who has a monster inside, or a monster who has a good person inside. Rage, transformation, and shapeshifting will be much more strongly evinced in their narrative and their mechanics. (John Mørke)

Definite support for social, mysterious Lunars. Not so much illusions. A Lunar has the most majestic god-body ever. They are all about being seen. (John Mørke)

Also, the connection between Lunars and animals is Gaia. (John Mørke)

Particularly when you expand "Frankenstein" to "all tales of created life or unnatural outcasts are fair game for inspiration," and particularly when you expand "werewolf" to "all tales of bestial dualism, and all shapeshifting folklore of any kind." I mean, hardly anyone in America has ever even heard of them, but I could riff on African werehyena legends alone pretty much forever. (Holden)

But yeah, one of the advantages of having new Exalted around is that Lunars no longer have to encompass literally every shapeshifter ever. Instead, they get to be a specific type of shapeshifter, broad enough to contain a wide variety of concepts without being so broad they lose thematic coherence. And it's really important that Lunars get that coherence in 3e.

Point being, Lunars can borrow animal-based symbolism for their powers without being limited to that. (Chai Tea)

Thanks to the Exalted 3E: What we know page for the details.

So what does that all mean and how do you use that to think up improved Lunars in 3E? I'll boil my thoughts down to 10 points:

  1. Lunars develop charms based on the ties they forge. Animal themes from Gaian bonds. Ghostly themes from spirit pacts. Fair Folk from the Wyld. Demons from Hell. Etc. Lunars may forge connections via ritual, sorcery, or the classic hearts-blood consumption. Once a link is established the Lunar can make changes to themselves to gain access to the unique charms related to those beings.
  2. Lunars retain the animal spirits shape due to Luna's connection to Gaia. This representing their first bond beyond that to their Silver patron. But over time they forge pacts and take the blood, breath, or coup from other beings gaining access to their forms and charms that evoke an echo of their nature. 
  3. Chimeras would be more based on loss of self over endless shapeshifting blob monsters, though that may be one possible outcome. Consider Ma-Ha-Sushi made a deliberate alternation to his internal vision of 'self'. Taking the fawn like lover and turning him into a goat/wolf murder machine in his quest for revenge. Out of all the bestial elders he is the most in control because he hones his Rage to a fine point so it won't consume him. Alternatively Rakshi was lost sight of herself somewhere in the past. Her anger and frustration at her loss of status in creation manifested in a cannibalistic urge that she indulges. Each Lunar now has a monster, a beast inside of them that can force it's way out. A true Chimera gives up trying to control or direct it. Very much like Grangrel Frenzy or Garou Frenzy of old, loosing control means you loose control of your form and nature.
  4. 1st Age Lunars were just a bestial as they are now, but that was 'working as intended'. They were the enforcers of the Solars, the spies, and shock troops when Dragon Bloods alone would not do. The key difference would be the lack of support of the Exalted Host and no Heavenly mandate to rule at the Solars side anymore. The Sidereals have usurped their role in more ways than one. Where as previously they might have been asked to sit in council or act as go-between in the various Heavenly and Terrestrial courts, they are cast adrift. In their place the Dragon-Bloods ape age old rolls the Beasts of Heaven use to fill, and worse they are doing it poorly.
  5. The monster to person duality of Lunars allows for really interesting ideas of powerful beasts that might stop an attack to save children, or a beautiful maiden who eats the hearts of potential Dragon Blooded suitors. A lunar may fight to remain human mentally slipping out of control when Limit gets too high, or embrace their bestial nature only to be hammered by dormant compassion/fear at ill timed events.And the more in tune Lunar who walks both paths looking for control and rage when needed.
  6. Changing Moons would all up bonds and connections by invoking the tie of blood between themselves and others. At a basic level they can invoke human society instincts on others, or after tasting blood (or invoking a bond via ritual) use more specific charms to change family dynamics. In this way they alter themselves to fit into roles others might expect them to fill, or call up a sense of deja-vu about a bond that never existed before the Lunar got a taste of them. They command respect because they invoke the stance of dominance (be it a pack, pride, or kingdom) or they walk unseen because they sing the song of an Omega (and blend into the culture like the lowest strata would.) 
  7. No Moons might call up ancestor knowledge from fallen family members to consul the living, or perhaps they wear the totem mask of the night sky and see that which is hidden under it's sight. Their charms would be more themed around Shaman tales and stories. Taking themes and culture clues to create powers based around legendary creatures, people, and actions. This would open up appearance charms relating to themes of love, loss, and fear. Charisma and Wits charms that invoke the true trickster allowing for uncanny ability to charm and withstand external influence. The list goes on.
  8. However, a Lunar crafter and Sorcerer might benefit from emulation of other Exalt or spirit types. Imagine being able to alter you essence enough to pic up any artifact at moments notice to use would be a costly but effective trick. Or taking on an aspect of beast to craft Evocations that call out it's nature in a artifact. Now quite the universal power to evoke power like Solars, but rather dedicated focus.
  9. There might be some thematic crossover with the Solars with charms like Craftsmen needs no tools to represented the Lunar being their own tool. Or perhaps they both share social charms of similar design since they once were the highest social beings of the 1st Age. (After all the #2 in charge after the Solars were the Lunars per the devs.) This may mean they have abilities that work much like Solar Socialize and Presence charms but not so much Bureaucracy or War.
  10. If my guess is correct the Lunars will be if anything independent on the need of any other Exalt or magic. They will still have Sorcery (and charms that might enhance it uniquely) and the same goes for Martial Arts (enhanced by their physicality). But uniquely to themselves is the ultimate in adaptability and self 'definition'. They can customize themselves by adding features and associates that others may not. Infernals emulate and become their own unique demon, Sidereals must be sublte in their pressure on fate. Solar craft and cast their way to dominates. Lunars simply become what they need, be it temporary or permanent.
This is theory crafting pure in simple. But I've always like the Lunars. I've wanted to play Loki meets The Thing for ages. A true rakshasa or kitsune. It's was always one of my favorite mythological archtypes. So here is hoping 3E pulls it off...and how close my vision to them is. (Even if I'm way off if the final version of them invokes a full and exciting play style. I'm there!)

Friday, November 7, 2014

Building the Better Nemesis

In many games you have enemies, foes, and challenges. But only in a handful does the faceless foes you are tackling rise up to become something more personal. It is when one NPC (and rarely PC) qualifies as a true rival, a counter to your every action, and eventually a battle of wits so profound they become the topic of table stories for years to come. Those foes are a true Nemesis, and it takes quite a bit of work as a Storyteller or GM to make one happen.

When building a Nemesis for your part there are three primary qualities you want to invest in them:

1. Direct contact with the characters.

The big and very important difference between a final boss of a dungeon and a returning nemesis is the personal touch. Some level of interaction must happen between the PCs and the foe. It can be in persona, via view screen, magical image. There needs to be a 'look em in the eyes' moment.

Back in the day I had a Magneto knock off in my Aberrant game. Called "Ivan" he was a crime boss who developed powerful ferrous kinetic powers with who the party fought against frequently. But he was canny enough to have escape plans and minions powerful enough to hold the PC's off. He wouldn't have been effective if the first time he showed up in my game he didn't have a face to face with the group. They had shut down a brain harvesting operation of his in San Francisco and when they were trashing the brain processing (super drug made from nova brains) plant he was there! They had a few rounds of combat when he pulled the roof of the building down on them and fled. After that the kept running into him: a voice over a loudspeaker, him waving a security footage from robberies, threats to the PC's via the internet. Eventually when the final battled happened it was personal and the group pulled out all the stops to take him down. And man what a fight. My players still talk about that take down to this day.

2. A valid reason to hate or pursue the characters.

This is the D&D lich problem. Why in the world would a high powered foe like a lich even care about level 1 adventurers? He's throw a skeleton horde at them and let them be slaughtered. Always consider the appropriate scale of the players power to their foes. Being more powerful is one thing, but the PC's must have the ability to threaten the Nemesis in some way.

Let's take a bad Exalted example: A game I was playing was a circle of Lunars trying to restore (or destroy if it couldn't be saved) a small bastion of Lunar power that an elder established years ago. We were sent into investigate a strange corruption which turned out to be Infernal Exalted and demon cultist trying to convert the country to their cause. For a while there we were looking for the Infernals behind the taint. We had long harsh battles against demons summoned in the area, had to take control of the local government to weed out cultists, and then focus on training the local mortals on how to protect and defend themselves. At one point in the adventure we finally drew out the Infernals who were behind the operation and I must say it was quite the fight (as most Exalted fights tend to be). Two Full Moons (me and a long time friend player) went to town on a Slayer and we defeated him through attrition! The Infernal Sorcerer escaped but we discovered he was working for someone else...the Yozi? It was there the 'valid reason' was both broken and supported.

This is the trap of the 'valid reason' issue with a nemesis comes up. Esclation of threat. The ST was wrapping up a game by raising the stakes in the adventure but then we as the PC's were faced with having to handle a demon so outside of the scale of how we thought that we might play. This new foe was faceless, over powering, and yet we were expected to face it. The Infernals we were facing...just a new type of lesser foe (sad as they had the potential to be more). All the other 'next tier' foes we could have faced? Just more fodder. So when moving up an organizations or tiers consider the scale of your game very carefully. This was an issue with prior editions of Exalted that 3E looks to adderss, but I've seen it happen in D&D games were the PC's take out a low level necromancer and suddenly discover he's just a pawn of level 5. Ya. No.

3. Build for a theme not for points.

Years ago I saw cool merits and flaws that talked about rivals and thought it would be perfect to have one in a few games. The catch is a rival is not a Nemesis, not even close. I have fits these days thinking about folks taking disadvantages that define for me who their Nemesis is. A Nemesis is not just raw points, it's something that comes out of play. Hell, a true nemesis may not even be as powerful as the party. The catch is they impact their lives and causes problems in the long run. Think of Spiderman, he has countless foes but his one true Nemesis long before the Green Goblin came along was J. Jonah Jameson. Jameson is not a bad person, he's not a nice person, and he is most definitely not someone who Spiderman will punch through a wall in a fight. He's a man with one very specific type of power, the power of the press. Jameson's position gives me the security to paint Spiderman as a threat to the city with little to no blowback on him!

In say an Exalted game, a local priest might decry the players as Anathama, calling in the ire of the Wyld Hunt, or local leaders unwilling to deal with demon allied warriors. Sure it would be easy to kill the priest, but doing so would only prove his point. Especially if the players are trying to win a Public Relations victory for their cause.

What about games like Shadowrun? Who is your Nemesis? A mega corp? They are too big and faceless. Sure maybe a Chairman or Manager is your hated foe, but killing them with out a contract will just bring corporate security and assassins down on you like thunder. But you can get back at them indirectly by taking jobs that hurt their bottom line. You can hurt their credit standing and clout in the corp

If you build a foe based on just points they become juicy targets for the players. Sure, somewhere in that threat is a NPC that you can lay hands on, but the idea of a good Nemesis reaches beyond them. It is their contacts, their alliances, their impact. Taking a good Nemesis out means taking down that support network before going in for the kill. If in an Exalted game your foe is a Deathlord you have your work cut out for you. You have Deathknights, ghosts, cutlists, and a slew of potential allies to deal with first.

And we'll call this #4.

When you take out one Nemesis you are not always done. Often there are others that will take up their cause, secret plans in the works that may bore fruit long after they are dead, or even a price to pay to remove them. This need to impact the PC's heavily. Think of Jim Moriarty from the recent Sherlock TV series. He set it up so even if he was dead Sherlock had to die to save his friends. So much so when he noticed that being alive was a liability to his plan (spoilers) on the roof scene of the 2nd season...he killed himself to carry out those plans. Now THAT is a Nemesis.

Just a few ideas to keep in mind when building one for your players.