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Author Topic: Exalted: Searching For My Face  (Read 4599 times)
Shreyas Sampat
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« on: June 16, 2003, 12:19:16 AM »

In a game of Exalted I started up recently, I decided to try and flex some of those Forge theory muscles, and recieved absolutely brilliant results.  I was totally floored with what I got out of the players.

Prep

I gave a short setting explanation to the players who weren't already familiar with it, and tossed around a few character ideas with them all.  One had a strong idea for a character already worked out, and we had to iron out a few kinks, but that was the end.  Another made a character on the spot.  The other two, I sent home with books after spending some more time explicating and brainstorming with them, trusting that they would bring back something I could work with.  I specified that each character have at least one person or place that they deeply cared about.

My two wayward players returned quite soon with characters ready to be dropped into the game; they blended effortlessly with the two previous.  Though two of the characters were not as deeply tied to the world as I would have liked, they all made up for it in sheer compelling imagery and willingness to tie themselves to things as time passed.

Play

The session started off with a whirlwind of scene cuts, flashes from one perspective to another, as I involved each into a story of two faerie entertainers who needed assistance settling a dispute with a spirit lord who had confiscated their original faces.  This riffed off the first character's interest in theatre and the arts, and quickly went into mercenary antics, questing for justice, and black-market politics.  I won't recount the whole session for you all;  it was long and extremely eventful, and more than a little confusing.  But one thing struck me then and amazes me even more now - the complete absence of Abused Player behavior, and the ease with which everyone fell into the mood.

Three of the players have had consistently good roleplaying experiences, so their unAbused behavior didn't shock me, but what did was their complete willingness to attempt wild, cinematic actions.  Having been weaned on various flavors of D&D and Shadowrun, I was expecting to do some prodding, but it turned out unnecessary; at one juncture, a character swung down out of the tree branches overhead, hanging by his feet, to throw several hatchets that ricocheted from hapless victim to the next, only to catch them and swing back up into the shade of leaves, without even bothering to ask if that was possible.  Of course, it was.

The fourth player and I have definitely shared some Abused Player experiences, which aren't relevant here.  This is what really caught my attention: his forwardness in bringing in a character that carried severe baggage, in the form of a minor noble title and lands plagued by zombies and ghosts.  Fantastic.  I've never seen such a thing in all my time playing and running games, and I think it's a great sign that the players are coming to me with such clear statements of "I'm interested in this."

Other Comments

All the players really like the Charm mechanic and the glowing Anima.  It's got great potential for description.  There's also a definite pleasure in discovering unexpected effectiveness, which all the players experienced at least once.  The Stunt mechanic, which I have now discovered I didn't reward for as generously as the game recommends, was nonetheless used almost constantly.  There was an impressive shortage of "I hit him", and a lot of, "Wow, my character did that?"  Definitely one of the most pleasurable gaming experiences I've had in some time.

As it happens, I did try and set up a player-driven reward mechanic, but this didn't get as much use as I hoped it would.  Have other people experienced player-driven reward mechanics falling flat?  It's something I need to think about before the next session.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: June 16, 2003, 05:34:37 AM »

Hello,

Congratulations, Shreyas! That's a great account of play. Here we go ...

1. Tell more about Exalted as a system and as a setting, in terms of what you and the others focused on. It's a pretty rich-setting game, so I'm interested in what struck you, creatively, as the points of focus.

2. Your shift from "I hit him" to "I did that? Cool!" reminds me of the old Champions days. This is about the third or fourth time that Exalted discussions remind me of that, so I need to sit down with the two rulebooks now to see what might be similar.

3. I have never found player-driven reward systems to mean a thing. As far as I can tell, rewards based on concrete achievements (how many goblins killed, or whether you succeeded three times in your skill) are a matter of accounting, which may be handled by anyone who wants to do it (player or GM). But rewards based more on character-play, or whether a conflict was dealt with "poorly / less than fair / fair / more than fair / well" or something like that, or more realistically, just for being there and having a good time, are different. I've read dozens of guidelines for handing them out, many of which involve everyone voting for best role-player or something similar, and I think they're all bunk. The reward was for being there and having fun, and that's all - therefore, in practice, the GM hands out a certain amount that's the same for everyone.

What I'm driving at is that I think ownership of the reward system is best reserved for one person, in order to validate it. I imagine I'm about to receive 80 disagreements about this ...

Best,
Ron
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Shreyas Sampat
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« Reply #2 on: June 16, 2003, 06:58:02 AM »

1. This first session wasn't the most focused, but here's what I intended to do:

    [*]Provide locales that were either uninspiring, to keep the attention on the occurrences within, or full of interesting imagery and architecture with handholds, for the most amazement and stunt potential.  To this end, Nexus became a city of ancient, crumbling towers that were nonetheless standing, and being used as structural support for the modern buildings that stood lower to the ground.  The city stands on multiple levels, the costliest properties being the "air castles", houses built atop the massive balconies of the towers.  There was never any shortage, in the wilderness,of water features and tree branches.  Et cetera.
    [*]Take all the advantage possible of the setting's vivid Color.  A necropolis in the misty eastern marches is filled with ancient tombs of costly imported stones, sealed with unreadable glyphs and featureless doors.  The builders' descendants still live among the marshes, and offer their prayers to Luna and the Unconquered Sun.  An Immaculate monastery offers carefully pious vegetarian meals to all the travellers passing by - and heated arguments about the astrological and elemental factors affecting herb gardening in the local climate.  Catlike Fair Folk loll before a fire in high summer, because it reminds them of home.  They order tea in order to sip the cream.
    [*]Steer away from cosmology issues, for the moment.
    [*]Involve the characters, immediately, in the web of favors and services that is the essence of black-market politics and spirit power gaming.[/list:u]
    Mostly, I tried to make the various characters, more than the locations, interesting and unique.  Rather than setting out a post-apocalyptic ruin-vision, I wanted to make the world alive.  There is a strong implication that First Age architecture isn't something the present has access to, and so I felt it was important to portray modern people as sophisticated and interesting in other ways.

    In terms of system, I am not yet fully versed in it, so I avoided a few of the heavier issues, and probably fudged up a couple of things.  The Charms mechanic, as I said, was a big point of interest, and Essence manipulation in general was used freely and with excitement.  The flashy light-show aspect didn't go unnoticed.  The size of Exalted diepools is something of a shock, coming out of other White Wolf games, and there are hints of a mechanic where successes roll over into a subsequent pool - something I plan to incorporate into the game on a larger scale.  One thing that this rolling-over system permits is stunning, consistent effectiveness.  The whiff factor is almost erased, replaced by a sensation of differing degrees of success.

    2.  I think this has a lot to do with the Stunt mechanic and my personal views on it (those being that you can embellish all you like and I won't make it harder as long as you don't do anything mechanically extra); the encouragement in the form of bonus dice on mechanically simple actions absolutely works.  Again, the combat system's rolling over of attack roll successes into the damage roll has big effects: one named NPC was dropped more or less in a single blow, after inflicting a horrifying wound to one of the characters.  Heck, at that point I said to myself, "Oops, didn't mean to hurt him that badly.  Wow."

    3. That's an interesting point of view on the topic.  Again, I'll have to think about it more deeply, but I think in the context of this game, you're correct.  As the Storyteller, I have the authority to hand out awards without explaining them, or even explain them, have the players ask me, "Are you sure the character deserves that?", and reply, "Trust me."

    Since I have your attention, Ron, another specific question: What are your thoughts on a player-driven reward system that's filtered through the Authority to give it legitimacy?  I seem to recall a friend of mine doing this in a D&D3e game; so far as I know he gave out any award that a player called for, but did make a show of stopping to think and talk about them.  In retrospect, it was a pretty interesting thing to me.
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    Ron Edwards
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    « Reply #3 on: June 16, 2003, 07:44:38 AM »

    Hi Shreyas,

    You wrote,

    Quote
    What are your thoughts on a player-driven reward system that's filtered through the Authority to give it legitimacy?


    I'm thinking about the many, many times during play when someone shouts out, regarding another player's announcement or roll or whatever, "Damn! That's worth a point!" or something similar. I'm also thinking that I'm often that player (the one who shouts out) when I'm not GMing. It's important to me to see people get rewarded, so I foster kind of a cheerleader interaction among all of us. Quick and low-stress negotiations sometimes happen - player A says, "Two points!" regarding some action of player B's, and I as GM say, "Nah, he did something like that last time, seems like one point to me," or, "Two? Are you kidding? Three!" This sort of thing goes on all the time in regard to Sorcerer bonus dice.

    Clearly we're talking about System in its most integrated context, as a GNS-based methodology, itself a manifestation of our Social Contract. It's not System just floating in space as a unit. In that context, I can answer you, "This is awesome." You can see, I think, that this works best when the reward system (bonuses or EPs or whatever) operates on-the-spot during play rather than between sessions. Hence Riddle of Steel SA's, Sorcerer bonus dice, and similar things seem best suited to it.

    However, if we are talking about System in terms of textual rules, and if we're considering the reward system in isolation (especially temporally-isolated to between-session awards), then a player-driven system mediated through the GM seems like a very bad idea - "Everyone suggests how many points they all get, then the GM decides ..." I'm pretty confident that everyone in the group would roll their eyes and just turn it over to the GM in the first place.

    Damned interesting question. Everything I'm posting in this thread is just musing; I'm sure I'm missing some corners or sector of application, so everyone's input is welcome.

    Best,
    Ron
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    Shreyas Sampat
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    « Reply #4 on: June 16, 2003, 02:19:01 PM »

    Quote from: Ron, you
    {snip}
    I'm thinking about the many, many times during play when someone shouts out, regarding another player's announcement or roll or whatever, "Damn! That's worth a point!" or something similar. I'm also thinking that I'm often that player (the one who shouts out) when I'm not GMing. It's important to me to see people get rewarded, so I foster kind of a cheerleader interaction among all of us. Quick and low-stress negotiations sometimes happen - player A says, "Two points!" regarding some action of player B's, and I as GM say, "Nah, he did something like that last time, seems like one point to me," or, "Two? Are you kidding? Three!" This sort of thing goes on all the time in regard to Sorcerer bonus dice.

    Clearly we're talking about System in its most integrated context, as a GNS-based methodology, itself a manifestation of our Social Contract. It's not System just floating in space as a unit. In that context, I can answer you, "This is awesome." You can see, I think, that this works best when the reward system (bonuses or EPs or whatever) operates on-the-spot during play rather than between sessions.  {snip}

    However, if we are talking about System in terms of textual rules, and if we're considering the reward system in isolation (especially temporally-isolated to between-session awards), then a player-driven system mediated through the GM seems like a very bad idea - "Everyone suggests how many points they all get, then the GM decides ..." I'm pretty confident that everyone in the group would roll their eyes and just turn it over to the GM in the first place.


    First issue: The cheerleading situation you describe is precisely what I'm trying to create in my game; there's already something like it in our discussions of stunt die awarding.  "That sounds like it's worth two, maybe..."  "naw, you're waffling.  Definitely a stunt, though.  One."  "Yeah.  There's something to be said for breathless excitement."

    Second issue: Rather than player-driven, I might say player-navigated.  This is the way my friend did it, once upon a time:  At the end of each session, he'd stop and go around the table, saying, "Okay, is there another player that did something really cool?"  You named a player and described his cool action; if he agreed, then said player got a fixed amount of bonus experience.  You couldn't nominate someone who'd been nominated already.  I can see how this is weaker - it wouldn't create the conditioning that would come of a swifter award system, or any of the benefits of that conditioning.  But it fit into our Social Contract well; we were basically patting each other on the back repeatedly for Simming the world well, in this form and in the form of trading war stories, which we did on a regular basis.
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    Michael S. Miller
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    « Reply #5 on: June 17, 2003, 06:22:42 AM »

    Just my 2 cents on the player-reward mechanic. In a long-running Mage game my wife ran, experience points were handled thusly: We each had little journals and at the end of each session, we would write why we thought we deserved an x.p. for a number of criteria--the standard White Wolf ones (heroism, role-playing, learning something, etc.)--and we could nominate another player (or more) to receive an extra x.p. fi we thought their play was exceptional. At the beginning of the next session, the GM would hand back the books, with our x.p. awards written out like 3+2 = 5 total. This meant that we scored 3 points from the standard criteria and two other players had nominated us for bonus points. But, we didn't know who had nominated us.

    No time to analyze it myself, right now, but it worked rather well for nearly 2 years of regular, 2-to-3-session-a-month play
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