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.