Monday, October 26, 2015

Understanding Exalted 3E Crafting - My Opinion

My full review of Exalted 3E is coming later this week. I'll go into withering vs decisive attacks, the changed social combat mechanics, the art, the mechanical issues and improvements, etc. But that's then. Now I want to directly address a point of contention among some readers about the new Exalted crafting mechanic. To help, I'll give a little bit of background about how Crafting in Exalted works now.

First off is how abilities have changed. Gone is the artificial Craft Earth, Fire, Air, etc from 2nd Edition and individual Craft skills and specializations have returned. However the book is specifically loose about what these specializations are with the key exceptions of three skills. (I'll get to this.) The three being Craft Artifact, Geomancy, and First Age Wonders. These three are called out because they tie directly into applications of Lore and Occult skills as well as Sorcery which place a big part in Crafting Artifacts. But let's get back to that.

The core of the new system is a method to allow characters to have ongoing crafting projects that don't remove them from ongoing play for long periods of time while still having a method of tracking successes and quality of project. So how does it do this? Activity slots. Each player gets 3 free Major task slots. Crafting items take basic, major, superior and legendary projects. Basic projects don't take slots, but major and above do. And higher level slots can be bought by 'spending' multiple lower level slot and are occupied until the character finishes or abandons the project. To control the rate in which these project happen and to grant the ability to have even more than the 3 'free' slots there is a Crafting Exp system with tiers based on the level generated. Silver from basic/major, gold from major/superior, and white from superior/legendary. Each extra slot and project costing a # of these crafting exp to start and finish. Sound complicated, it's not once you see it in motion. And how do you get exp if you have none? Remember how Basic projects don't cost slots? That's how. The idea is to make crafters work on lesser ongoing projects to gain the experience and resources to carry on the bigger projects. Which makes sense in a narrative pacing for mortal character but seems to cause contention among players who expect Solar and Exalted crafts persons to not be bound by such limitations.

I've done some reading about the complaints and I think I can boil down some issues to key points and show how/why the current system address them and ways of cope where it doesn't. The areas I'll cover today are the following: Lack of flexibility and gadgettering style play for Solar crafts persons, skill bloat, why craft xp and how it causes an artificial divide to narrative play, and finally, how does a crafter character work with a more action oriented party.

First off, some folks had issues that crafting character couldn't pull inventions out of their hat Reed Richards style to solve problems. Why charms for Solars didn't allow them to craft instant artifacts like Batman's utility belt. My counter argument is: as a matter of fact they can (kinda) and that's actualy working as intended because that level of radical gadgettering is not the Solar's style. First off, a Solar can MacGyver their way out of most situations with a handful of charms. Craftsman Needs No Tools does away with requiring the players to have hardware on hand. Carve a ladder into a mountain as you climb, shape a sword from a raw ingot, etc and it cuts the time down by tenths. Mind you most of these 'on the fly' creations granting the user crafting exp as they help the party. Vice-Miracle Technique is a free(ish) 2 dot artifact a season the Solar can stunt into existence. Shattering Grasp turns defenses and traps to do much spare parts. Finally, Crack-Mending Technique allows a Solar to undo the ravages of time and use on standard objects. Basically turning the Solar into a whirlwind of in game action. If that doesn't scream MacGyver action I don't know what is.

But let's address the Reed Richards question. Crazy off the wall gadgettering. Thematically it doesn't mesh with the basic book Exalted, the Solars very well. Solars are paragons of excellence. Working faster, harder, pulling off the impossible using the tools at hand (even if it is ONLY their hands) fits their theme. They have the capacity to create the greatest of artifacts and do routinely. However the non linar, tangential discoveries of comic book characters fits more in with other Exalted. Lunars are masters of doing without, or making the dream like logic of the Wyld work for them, Abyssals are lords of destructive creation, and so on. Wild, spur of the moment gadgets seem more to fit with Siderals/Getimiean Exalted fate weaving tricks, Alchemical on the spot engineering, or perhaps the corruptive non-Creation friendly art of Infernals. You may not agree with me, but I see Solars are more paragons of existing engineering. They can conceive of the impossible but achieve it with planning, sorcererous works, and effort. Thematically the idea of them 'building up' to a massive artifact fits better. But let's move on.

What about skill bloat? Well, with the exception of the 3 Artifact/lore based skills this actually can be handled by a Storyteller easily. Define skills as professions. An Armor Smith is going to know a little about leather working, iron/steel work, etc. Encourage players to take 2-3 skills with a primary at the highest value and the others at 2 or so dots. This will represent the areas of expertise the Solar has. There is charms for Solars that let them swap skill points in one craft for another, and you can always stunt in situations where you lack a specific skill. What I guess I'm saying is it's no more or less bloated than before. I know some STs and players prefer the ultimate in reduction of skills, and to be fair a ST can rule that there are at most 3-4 skills. General crafting, artifacts, geomancy, and maybe the First Age craft. Done. Don't over think it the rules will work in both situations, a few ST approved skills or lots of player made ones. The cost exp wise is mitigated because of Exalted exp benefits and charms.

The next issue I see brought up is having 3 types of crafting xp involved in tracking what projects cost and what you earn from crafting things. While I agree that multiple types of crafting exp seems excessive I understand the attempt to show the scope and tier of crafting tasks via this mechanic. However don't discount the core of the idea. Crafting exp is no different than gathering motes for Sorcery. It's an abstraction mechanically to show effort.  You could unify the system and make one gold exp equal 5 silver, etc to reduce the system down to a single type of exp cost. But then you'd have to alter the costs of all the charms. Narratively think of craft exp as building action. Tony Stark build the Iron Man armor around his arc reactor, repulsor tech, and his heart implant. He went through revisions, building tools, Stark Tower, etc to finally come up with the current version of the Iron Man armor. In Exalted terms a crafts person will spend time building tools, components,  upgrading their workshop, dealing with logistical issues IN CHARACTER before there big Artifact 3+ project comes to fruition. The same mechanic can be scaled up to handle the social influence and large scale Exalted social engineering projects Solars love so much.

Finally, how does a crafting character interact with a more action oriented Exalted group? Well, to answer this there are a few things to consider. Is crafting the ONLY thing your character does? If the answer is yes, then there is your first problem. Exalted characters tend to need to be rounded. Not well rounded, that's what advancement is about, but rather having a collection of skills representing their diverse lives. That means a mix of social, combat, and various other life skills. You can still take Supernatural Craft as your primary specialty and get amazing discounts in exp costs for advancing it later, not to mention opening up all charms no mater the Essence requirement. And that's great, but not filling out some easy to acquire Essence 1 charms, excellencies, and specializations in other areas is singling your character out from more diverse play.

Alternatively when you have a hammer, all problems look like nails. Just like combat oriented characters offer combat oriented solutions, sorcerers look for the right working or summon, or a socialite will try to talk their way out of a situation...a crafter will look to make something to help. Remember when I spoke about using Craftsmen Needs No Tools to MacGyver a situation? Think of problems as engineering issues. Deathlord want's to take over a town? Build defenses. Want to impress a god? Make him/her beautiful gifts. Not enough Dakka? MORE DAKKA! Sorry, 40K reference there. It's all about player mind set and skill set. If you are an Exalted crafter you are the PRIME example of what I call a Magical Engineering Commando. Have problem? Apply technical know how. The right mindset and diverse skill build for a crafter character will keep them in the action with the rest of the PCs. Sell your craft ideas on the others. Solar crafters can bang out the defenses for a small town in hours, by themselves! And better yet? Think of yourself as a stunt generator. Anything the party crafter makes is a STUNT-ABLE object.

At the end of the day the Exalted 3E crafting system is a tool. A meta-narrative system to allow Storytellers to pace crafting action, allowing PC's to start multiple projects and keep them going during adventures. Beyond that it's open to hacking by STs to improve or enhance the rest of the game. The core of the 2E and 1E crafter issues was crippling over specialization and I don't think they'll ever fix that in Exalted without completely diverging from the Storyteller system in any fashion. Something I doubt they will do. But 3E's system is more robust than previous ones, and allows for a way to gauge the scale of a project. Understand that no Exalted system will be perfect, but keep an open mind to 3E's mechanics as being a tool kit to play with as you please.