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Author Topic: Bumpy Exalted game  (Read 13281 times)
John Burdick
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Posts: 105


« on: December 07, 2003, 04:47:11 AM »

I'm thinking about developing a situation for my Exalted group. We've had some false starts with player dropouts, and I've lost my mental momentum. I'd like to talk about how I got to this point.

More than a year back, a friend(Agito) invited me to his game group to play D&D. I had played various games from about 1980 to 1986 and stopped for lack of players. This invitation was my first opening since high school. It turned out that the group alternated between D&D and a never ending series of home made games by one of the players. The D&D game faltered after a few sessions, but the GM/game designer(Ranger One) kept doing his games every week.

I started buying game books. I ran a one shot of Adventure!. I'd heard praise of Exalted. Much of the comments refered to an anime connection, which confused me. I didn't see any when I flipped through the books. When I was able to get the core book and Lunars for 70% off, I bought them. By summer, I had most of the released books. More importantly, I felt enough confidence and inspiration to run the game.

Agito, who had invited me in the first place, had become increasingly frustrated with Ranger One's games. Once I understood the Impossible Thing and why Illusionism comes about, I had enjoyed the games. The other regular player (Jeff) was happy as long his character was effective; he was content with providing badass color. Agito's feelings were evidenced by "I can't do shit" while throwing his character sheet across the table. His reaction to getting a new powerfull item was to predict it would be damaged, destroyed, or stolen. Naturally, his belief was well founded. This situation was why I started reading Forge discussions. I didn't write about it because I was neither the unhappy player nor the GM.

Ranger One constantly tinkers with his rules. When we show up for his games, we plan for time to copy our characters over to the new character sheet. Frequently, he abandons a game completely and tries something new. All the games had the same Sim agenda with Illusionist technique. I felt that his trying different rules without varying play style was a shame. I've discussed creative agendas with him, and he has broadened how he plays a little.

Since I was the one who wanted to play Exalted, and the one who owned and read the books, I started a game as GM. I hoped that playing Exalted, with its high character effectiveness, and using what I learned from reading here would allow Agito to enjoy gaming again. I was going to emphasize player empowerment and exploration of setting over situation.

The first session was a trivial excersize in combat using the Tomb of Five Corners sample adventure. The second session was the one I tried to play in ernest. A player that had dropped out of the group before I came (Steve) returned at this time. Steve asked if he could have a god as a companion; I showed him the write-up for Lion Dogs. He read it and was enthused by the description of noble gods protecting ruins without any recognition or purpose. He led the overall mood of the game in his effort to restore the honor of the gods and the well-being of the mortals. He pulled the party together and built a following by protecting people from barbarian raiders and fair folk.

Ranger One has a strong preference for playing as GM. Running a PC pretty much bores him, but he's a good sport about it.

Agito played a Full Moon Lunar brawler. His play was very combat focused. He was the only player to make significant use of stunt descriptions and he enjoyed that element. His player initiated plot was centered on prize fighting.

At this point, everything was going good. With fall semester starting, Steve dropped out of the game because of time constraints. None of the other players are invested in his crusade. Two of them want to leave the city and move to a big forest. Okay. We move to the Linowan forests. I start bringing in elements of the confict between the Linowan people and the Haltans. We're cool.

Agito's work schedule changes and he stops coming to the games. Ranger One doesn't want to play his character anymore and starts making a new one. A player that had left before I showed up, Al, had talked to Ranger One. The description of the setting and style of Exalted interested him. Now we have Jeff, Ranger One with a new character, and Al. The situation between the Linowan and Haltan peoples didn't really stick anymore. We settle for a mostly pointless battle. Ranger One's new character dies; he doesn't mind because making a character is more fun than playing one.

I declare the outcome of the pointless battle void, and Ranger One makes a new character. His new character is a Sidereal Gold Faction meddler. Three Dragon Blooded are trying to kill the two Solars for simply being Solars; a Bronze Faction Sidereal gave them the location. We have a fight. Players are envious of the special advantages given to Dragon Blooded. Ranger One actually like his almost a pet NPC character and wants to play him again.

That was the last session. I need to get the game moving. I believe Al will enjoy the game I want to play. I'm almost tempted to make him read the book and give me something to work with. I don't really believe that is necessary or effective.

I want Ranger One to direct the other characters to achieve goals. Those goals would be ones his character wants met. The usual enemies would be the dead, demons, and fair folk. I just don't feel confident.

John
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #1 on: December 07, 2003, 10:13:39 AM »

Quote from: SquirrelCentral

I'm thinking about developing a situation for my Exalted group. We've had some false starts with player dropouts, and I've lost my mental momentum. I'd like to talk about how I got to this point.


Well, it seems not many have really strong views on Exalted here. This not being the place for general chatting about it might of course affect it. Anyway, it's not so with me; since my brother bought all those books they have whispered insidiously to me about playing. A shame to waste such books and all that.

The problem is, Exalted is a very hard game to use coherently and with skill. I've Storytold a short campaign of it and since then tinkered on and of with the game, trying to find a way to use the material for something. The most promising approaches to date have been porting to HeroQuest (to get rid of the clumsy rules) and restructuring the game for a Final Fantasy I campaign with some world tinkering and combat rule simplifications.

Enough of that. The point is, Exalted isn't a bad game, even being mainstream and all. It has an interesting world, above all things. Rules aren't much to speak of, and the game gives no help whatsoever for actually running it coherently and keeping it together. But an interesting world, and there's lots of it.

It seems to me that you have fundamentally stumbled on the lack of direction there. Most of my plans for the game include rigid frames on what it's about. If you go at it from the (usually laudable) direction of lettin' the players decide, what you get is exactly what you have: a bunch of demigods doing nothing at all particularly.

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Since I was the one who wanted to play Exalted, and the one who owned and read the books, I started a game as GM. I hoped that playing Exalted, with its high character effectiveness, and using what I learned from reading here would allow Agito to enjoy gaming again. I was going to emphasize player empowerment and exploration of setting over situation.


From a latter part of the post I see that you have made a point of keeping the books from the players. This I see utterly inconseivable for anything I'd try with the game. The world being the fascination in this game, it's not sensible at all to keep it hostage for good behaviour. "Play with me and you'll get to see the game world soon enough." doesn't cut it, if you ask me.

Is it then possible to explore setting if you give all the books to the players to read? Eminently so, and to my mind it's the only meaningful exploration possible. How the players should and could do any exploring if they know only a couple of inconcequential fantasy names? How is it world exploration for you if all you are doing is apportioning already known material to your players?

Empower your players and explore the world by opening the gates. I myself have been planning making the textual material itself the centerpiece of play. Choose appropriate pieces from the books for players to read, depending on characters. Start a new area of the world by everyone reading on it from suitable books (Linowan forests, for example, are dealt with in some three different books). Then go explore, and take it beyond what the books tell. Part and parsel of WW books is not explaining how to play, but I wouldn't wonder if this were the way the designer plays. However much material there is in the books, there's always more to explore. Send the characters to see Lintha pirates, let players read everything already known about them, and see how you yourself get to invent and create, alongside your players.

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Steve asked if he could have a god as a companion; I showed him the write-up for Lion Dogs. He read it and was enthused by the description of noble gods protecting ruins without any recognition or purpose. He led the overall mood of the game in his effort to restore the honor of the gods and the well-being of the mortals. He pulled the party together and built a following by protecting people from barbarian raiders and fair folk.


It strikes me that this supports the above. The game flies when you let your players be affected by the nice and inspiring material from the books. You aren't needed as a censor deciding what they are allowed to read.

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Ranger One has a strong preference for playing as GM. Running a PC pretty much bores him, but he's a good sport about it.


This is not good. Invest him by actively breaking the illusion (which you seem to hold on to) and asking for player input and ideas for world and situation at all times. Pretend to get stumped at thinking up things, for example, free your players to do more than work their characters. If the idea is player empowerment and exploring the world, you get nowhere if you keep to rigid player-character relationship.

It seems to me that R1 is most interested in the mechanics and setting up of games; he did build all those simulationist games, without any grander designs, right? Seems a little bit of an armchair roleplayer to me, more interested in puppetry than communication. Get him interested by talking about the game outside sessions, especially about aspects of STelling he is interested in. Put him to work designing new rules apparati or a city for the characters to visit. Make him read about Whitewall and ask him to come up with a relationship mapping for the most prominent people there and a list of possible adventure seeds. If I read this right, he should get kicks out of the design and seeing how you use his work.

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Agito played a Full Moon Lunar brawler. His play was very combat focused. He was the only player to make significant use of stunt descriptions and he enjoyed that element. His player initiated plot was centered on prize fighting.


You seem to understand player empowerment as letting them follow their own ideas narrowmindedly? I happen to have some experience with this issue, having DMed a D&D-game of grand fantasy campaign for a couple of years, striving for ultimate player empowerment. My advice is to try for empowerment within the group, not as individuals.

This means that if somebody wants to play a lunar in a solar game, take it to the table with the players. I would already have talked about the general thrust of the story at this stage, so players would have some idea of what we are going to do. If the players can work the character in there satisfactorily, go for it. Let them affect the game in relation to other players and you, not in isolation. Not "I'm empowered 'cause I can play what I want!" but "I'm empowered 'cause I can affect the direction the game takes!"

This is an important distinction; ponder on it.

I don't mean here that you have any problems with the lunar; it just striked me as something I wouldn't do if I hadn't a very exact understanding of the direction of the game.

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At this point, everything was going good. With fall semester starting, Steve dropped out of the game because of time constraints. None of the other players are invested in his crusade. Two of them want to leave the city and move to a big forest. Okay. We move to the Linowan forests. I start bringing in elements of the confict between the Linowan people and the Haltans. We're cool.


Consider moving away from the idea of character group. Exalted are big enough that as long as they work in the same cardinal direction they will affect each other, whether they go everywhere with each other or not. Again, not necessarily a problem, but consider it. I would probably build my next Exalted completely so that we just follow individuals, not any artificial hero group.

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I declare the outcome of the pointless battle void, and Ranger One makes a new character. His new character is a Sidereal Gold Faction meddler. Three Dragon Blooded are trying to kill the two Solars for simply being Solars; a Bronze Faction Sidereal gave them the location. We have a fight. Players are envious of the special advantages given to Dragon Blooded. Ranger One actually like his almost a pet NPC character and wants to play him again.


Exalted falls apart if the group doesn't have quite a high world fidelity. That's my considered opinion. I wouldn't imagine playing filler battles with demigod characters, they are better utilised in an epic story. You destroy your future chances by not sticking to the vision of the separate elements of the world, as the players play around with less-than-half understood character consepts and learn to play the game like some half-assed D&D.

Make a player wanting to play a certain type of Exalted read the appropriate book. From the first page to the finish, no mercy. If they don't want to, give them heroic mortals to play until it happens. You cannot get anything resembling a high-fidelity vision of the Creation if the players don't know what you are trying for. Again, don't keep the books to yourself.

Seems harsh, but methinks you should consider your role as the ST again. If you want player empowerment, start talking about what you really want. If your players want meaningless battles, structure the game so that it works for some stylish meaningless battles (with the characters executing a campaign against some Deathlord, for example). If, as it might be, they have the dream about immersing in the world you seem to have, how about either some heavy scene framing or more ST intervention in the plot?

To illustrate how strange your story feels to me as it pertains to Exalted, I could never imagine doing an Exalted campaign where each and every session didn't drive some suitably animist (hey, that's 'anime-like') grand and epic storyline with mucho character protagonism and new aspects of the delightfully imaginative and multisided world. I'd use the hammer and the axe for the purpose, cutting all this "I wanna go kill monsters" shit at it's root.

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That was the last session. I need to get the game moving. I believe Al will enjoy the game I want to play. I'm almost tempted to make him read the book and give me something to work with. I don't really believe that is necessary or effective.


Almost tempted? Almost tempted!? <pulling his hair> Do it already, like yesterday! It's the only possibility if you want your players to view the idea of exploring the world as anything but a backdrop for killing monsters.

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I want Ranger One to direct the other characters to achieve goals. Those goals would be ones his character wants met. The usual enemies would be the dead, demons, and fair folk. I just don't feel confident.


I think I gave a quite vocal overview of my overinflated opinion. Use more and braver player empowerment. I don't know if R1 is really the best choise for a leading element; from your story of his play habits it seems to me that he is much more interested in planning than in execution. You'd know best, though.
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John Burdick
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« Reply #2 on: December 07, 2003, 11:12:23 AM »

Quote from: Eero Tuovinen

If you go at it from the (usually laudable) direction of lettin' the players decide, what you get is exactly what you have: a bunch of demigods doing nothing at all particularly.


Not really. The issue is that when the player that chose a strong direction leaves I fall apart. Neither of the players that never skip a session or drop out are giving me the energy I want.

Quote from: Eero Tuovinen

From a latter part of the post I see that you have made a point of keeping the books from the players.


You misunderstand. Any of the books are available. I just never tried to make them read them. R1 has read the book for the type he is momentarily playing.

Quote from: Eero Tuovinen

You seem to understand player empowerment as letting them follow their own ideas narrowmindedly?


I can't understand why you would say that. I feel a bit defensive.

Quote from: Eero Tuovinen

Make a player wanting to play a certain type of Exalted read the appropriate book. From the first page to the finish, no mercy. If they don't want to, give them heroic mortals to play until it happens.


Maybe. Past history suggests that pushing books at people is hard work.

Quote from: Eero Tuovinen

If you want player empowerment, start talking about what you really want. If your players want meaningless battles, structure the game so that it works for some stylish meaningless battles (with the characters executing a campaign against some Deathlord, for example). If, as it might be, they have the dream about immersing in the world you seem to have, how about either some heavy scene framing or more ST intervention in the plot?


Yes, that's exactly what I'm trying to do. Both of them. And it worked very well with Steve, and somewhat with the Linowan/Halta plan.  Discuss direction with the players, frame scenes that support that direction, and give brief action scenes to make the action hungry players happy with their characters. After the battle against the fair folk, Steve set out to rehabilitate the victims. He recruited workers, bought buildings and petitioned governments. That was great.

Quote from: Eero Tuovinen

Almost tempted? Almost tempted!? <pulling his hair> Do it already, like yesterday! It's the only possibility if you want your players to view the idea of exploring the world as anything but a backdrop for killing monsters.


I'll convince Al to read the core book, Scavenger Sons, and 3 Circles. Happy?

Quote from: Eero Tuovinen

I don't know if R1 is really the best choise for a leading element; from your story of his play habits it seems to me that he is much more interested in planning than in execution. You'd know best, though.


My idea was to use him to play guest star characters. If he keeps wanting to play his current character, I'll go with that. He only has intermitent contact with the other characters.

John
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #3 on: December 07, 2003, 11:36:26 AM »

Quote from: SquirrelCentral

Quote from: Eero Tuovinen

You seem to understand player empowerment as letting them follow their own ideas narrowmindedly?


I can't understand why you would say that. I feel a bit defensive.


That's what it seemed like, and that's a relatively common folly. No harm meant. I just tried to present an alternative, in the case you had this narrow view.

It is important, from my recent experience, to channel players towards an unitary game. Otherwise they might just play their own, separate stories. I have an extreme example of this: In my current D&D game, centred on heroic myths of ancient Greece, a player wanted his character to make a hang glider. Well, being the player empowering GM I am, I foolishly let him bury himself. The character went off to make a hang glider (not totally baseless per se, as I have a strong current of natural philosophy in the game in the form of a semimythical Academy), while others went to this legendary battlefield of Kilikia, battling ghosts and gaining there the horn of Pardis, the hero who won't be forgotten.

The moral of the story: there was nothing for the hang glider man to do in the adventure, as his character was building a hang glider and he doesn't understand these newfangled ideas about switching characters or playing NPCs. How fun is that? You could go the same way, but then I suggest letting them pay the price. If somebody wants to disregard the direction open discussion has given to the game, by all means. You don't have to play, after all.

Again, I don't know if you have any problems with this particular thing. Just guessing from what you wrote.

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Maybe. Past history suggests that pushing books at people is hard work.


But on the other hand, if you want to play the game because you liked the book, why should your players want to play it without reading it?

Your mileage of course may wary, and much depends on the microculture. It's no big deal to read a book for the kind of players I play with, as most take the play somewhat seriously.

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I'll convince Al to read the core book, Scavenger Sons, and 3 Circles. Happy?


Quite :). Scavenger Sons is a good one for overall inspiration, but isn't the Bo3C a little dull? I mean, it's just spell after another. Of course if he plans to play a sorcerer, it's a must.
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wyrdlyng
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« Reply #4 on: December 07, 2003, 01:02:47 PM »

The best and simplest piece of advice I can give you is to just focus the campaigns and have the players make characters suited to the campaign. Exalted has a huge widespread world which allows for almost anything but that doesn't mean that it can do it all at once.

With the group you have remaining I would strongly suggest doing smaller, tightly focused, mini-campaigns. Choose one area and one idea and build a campaign with a set beginning and ending around your area and idea. This also means limiting character types in each mini-campaign to save yourself the nightmare of having an Abyssal, a Celestial, and a Solar trying to work together. (Though once the players get used to this style of play you could try the separate but moving towards similar goals approach that was mentioned before. Mini-campaigns allow more experimentation.)

When a mini-campaign is done move to another area and another idea. This will allow your player who likes making characters to explore that aspect further and also lets them see more of the world, just in smaller bites.

This also alows you to revisit characters from previous mini-campaigns should players long to play "Yarl the mighty" (or whatever) once more.

I'd also suggest letting experience carry over from mini-campaign to mini-campaign to allow them to play more "developed" characters.

Exalted, like Glorantha (IMO), should play more like an anthology of stories rather than a novel or trilogy (or some nightmarish dodecogy).

Just my two cents.
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« Reply #5 on: December 07, 2003, 01:09:49 PM »

Quote from: Eero Tuovinen
It is important, from my recent experience, to channel players towards an unitary game.

Hrm, Eero, you might want to hang around the Forge a bit more before handing out advice like this. When the GM controls the players (ie: "channels" them) either overtly or covertly, a group is well on its way to a dysfunctional game (if they aren't already there).

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Otherwise they might just play their own, separate stories.

Gods forbid the players play their character's story rather than follow the GM's plot.

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<snip>The moral of the story: there was nothing for the hang glider man to do in the adventure, as his character was building a hang glider

Sounds to me like it wasn't the player who failed, but you. As the GM, it was you who failed to provide adventure to the player because he didn't do what you expected or wanted, not the player because he did not do what you expected or wanted.

The player from your example did absolutely nothing wrong, and made no mistake, by choosing to pursue his own course of action. As GM, it is your job to riff off his chosen actions and provide the character with plenty to do, interactions to have, and so forth.

However, these sorts of situations highlight why it is important that a game's boundaries be set up front by the group as a whole; if they aren't supposed to go off and do their own thing, then they need to be aware of that AND agree to it. Expectations need to be set and agreed to by the individuals of the group.

That's the best way to move from a dysfunctional game to one where everyone is on the same page and interested in what's going on (even if it doesn't involve them).

It also serves to highlight a few other items, such as why player developed backstories are the best form of adventure hooks for games, rather than the GM's ideas of what the adventure is or the plot he is attempting to involve them in -- the backstory, and that's it.

As well as why the GM has to learn to let go of his ideas and NPCs and so forth, and let the players direct the action, serving only as a response to those actions rather than the director of them.

So, there's two ways to approach this: either set up those boundaries for play expectations, a valid form of Illusionism (though others here more versed in such would be better proponents of that style) so everyone does stay together (not so you can keep them together), or let go and let the players direct the action, which means no centralized plots or play goals for the evening, often little party-based focus but plenty of group (as in, the real people at the table) interest in events that do not actually affect everyone.

Does any of that sound like it might help you out, John?
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #6 on: December 07, 2003, 02:02:01 PM »

Quote from: greyorm

Hrm, Eero, you might want to hang around the Forge a bit more before handing out advice like this. When the GM controls the players (ie: "channels" them) either overtly or covertly, a group is well on its way to a dysfunctional game (if they aren't already there).


Heh, I've hanged around quite a bit, at least a couple of years. Just haven't felt the need of registering. Anyway, your point is well received, if not for me, then for those less experienced.

I don't channel the players by controlling them, I'd have used that word if it were the case. I'm talking about simply directing the dialogue in a productive fashion, which is an useful GM function. Especially as my game is primarily for newbies in our rpg club, and thus I don't expect everyone to simply talk productively all the time.

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Gods forbid the players play their character's story rather than follow the GM's plot.


Now, didn't I characterise my game as the sort where players choose the story, and wasn't the issue how this is done? I wanted to warn against this extreme technique I opted in the example, not encourage it's use. But if the situation comes up, the choise I made is the only possible if you don't want to resort to forcing the player to the evening's adventure.

This all isn't probably very clear, as I'm not inclined to tell longish stories about the paradigm of my game just to get an example across. You just get it, or if not, try to disregard it. Or ask for clarification and I'll write something like this message.

To make my earlier point clearlier, this is what I tried to say: If you want player initiative on the evening's entertainment and want it to stay unitary (as in: telling one story, not many), you have to work to make the players take part of the responsibility. If a player still doesn't want to play that game (meaning, doesn't want to play the adventure you have combined from player initiative), I don't see what else I can do but let the player see how fun it is to simply stay out of the adventure. There is two assumptions here, which are part of my game and therefore the example: first is that we play one story at a time, no splitting up. The second is that we simulate a character freedom, and ultimately there won't be any high pressure for a player to direct his character to any particular direction. Drop either of those and you can solve the situation differently.

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<snip>The moral of the story: there was nothing for the hang glider man to do in the adventure, as his character was building a hang glider

Sounds to me like it wasn't the player who failed, but you. As the GM, it was you who failed to provide adventure to the player because he didn't do what you expected or wanted, not the player because he did not do what you expected or wanted.


Nah, I can see how that might look that way, but there's this bunch of game paradigm I omitted in the interest of brevity in the example. Hope I cleared it up somewhat.

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The player from your example did absolutely nothing wrong, and made no mistake, by choosing to pursue his own course of action. As GM, it is your job to riff off his chosen actions and provide the character with plenty to do, interactions to have, and so forth.


And that I did, when the time came. The game works with strong chronology, and the building of the glider simply took much longer. Remember that we are essentially talking modified D&D here. How would you act with a player who wants his mage to go research a spell at the start of the session?

As to who did wrong, it's quite clear to me (and presumably the players) that the player in question acted a little strange, especially as he didn't want to take a supplementary character for the adventure, an adventure we had worked out through our normal, player empowering process.

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However, these sorts of situations highlight why it is important that a game's boundaries be set up front by the group as a whole; if they aren't supposed to go off and do their own thing, then they need to be aware of that AND agree to it. Expectations need to be set and agreed to by the individuals of the group.


My point. At least in this post. Of course the fact that the player (who is a tad strange though; you know the type) didn't understand something others had understood a long time ago (from my preliminary explanation about the style of the campaign, I presume) might be interpreted to mean that I failed in explaining what we do in the game.

Well, this story has a happy ending. Last thursday the player (who is still strange) did the exact same thing (his new character wanted to make a crossbow this time). Me, being the jovial and young dog-like GM I am, learned from the last time and holding my head in my hands suggested that we'll take care of his escapade by e-mail before the next session. Quite self-evident, but I've learned since the first time that this player needs a little more direction than most.

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So, there's two ways to approach this: either set up those boundaries for play expectations, a valid form of Illusionism (though others here more versed in such would be better proponents of that style) so everyone does stay together (not so you can keep them together), or let go and let the players direct the action, which means no centralized plots or play goals for the evening, often little party-based focus but plenty of group (as in, the real people at the table) interest in events that do not actually affect everyone.


Well, as I said, I've been doing a quite functional compromise for the second season now, some thirty sessions. If there is serious deviation between characters (as in "I want to go rescue my mentor, but you have to stay and fight the evil persians."), one character goes off, player picks up another, we play one or the other of the adventures and come back to the other one in the next session, where other players make new characters if necessary. Thus the game grows off-shoots, which are tied up with the grand narrative in a above-the-table fashion. We use numerous conventions here, like centering the game on a big adventurers' guild where free characters (those earlier generated, still alive and not adventuring) just happen to wait as a character stable for those situations when players need more characters, for example to join another player's plot.

This is a way of satisfying player initiative for those who for one reason or another don't want to deal with the broad and slow stories that develop from absolute player freedom. I've done those, too, but that's not what I'm looking for in this D&D game (which tries to be a classical grand campaign, after all).
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John Burdick
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« Reply #7 on: December 08, 2003, 07:12:40 AM »

We played last night. The session was better than the last two. Al, the new player, is starting to grasp the mecanics. The start was good. Al was trying to lay low after the previous fight, while the Gold faction character tried to get him into action. I let things bog down late in the evening. It was mainly the time and not stepping back to reevaluate.

John
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: December 08, 2003, 02:19:29 PM »

Hi John,

I've been thinking about your situation a lot since you first posted. I've been reading Exalted pretty carefully lately and have been very interested in how people have played it, and what they found to enjoy or not to enjoy.

And in some ways, I've had to think about the way this thread has developed too, specifically as a dialogue.

If I'm not mistaken, your gaming situation has some real risks built into it. Risk #1 is that you guys might not continue to play together, and Risk #2 is that you will continue to play but with relatively low levels of satisfaction in return.

The trouble is discussing that without a whole lot of emotional tension going on. The internet medium, frankly, really sucks for this purpose, and so we all have to be careful. In my view, Erling gave you some exceptionally good feedback, given what you'd posted, and I was looking forward to some good dialogue about that. Apparently what seemed to me like a very good set of advice and ideas wasn't phrased in a way that worked. (Nor did it work for Raven [greyorm], which only goes to show the limitations of the medium and how we all individually interpret what we read.)So it's not clear to me just how to post, for you.

With that in mind, I ask you to take any and all of the following as kind of a shotgun-blast of "maybes," which may or may not apply, and which may or may not be helpful. If any of it is clearly, to you, off the mark, then please don't take it as an unjust accusation, but rather as merely my own failure of perception.

Here are some of the Social Contract issues I see in your post. Emphasis: which I see, which is not the same thing as actually truly the case. I'm posing them for you to verify, correct, or identify as non-applicable.

1. Ranger One is typically "the GM" and in this case, he's not. He is also heavily committed to control-issues during play and utilizes both play-techniques and rules-adjustments as authorities in doing so. I could be very wrong about this, but all my experience points to such a person as a problematic player - power-issues and the role of central authority are very hard to give up, and being "just a player" entails giving up.

2. Most of your prep for the game consists of buying and reading the books. This isn't a bad thing, necessarily ... but, as Erling suggested, it can create a very big difference between the nature of your enthusiasm for the game and the enthusiasm of the other people. I suggest that your emphasis of Setting over Situation might be a bit troublesome, although I realize that what you're saying is to avoid programming scenes, especially in terms of outcomes. But I'm saying that Situation is key - especially if your main goal is empowering the players through character effectiveness. The players have to care about the conflict at hand, in order to enjoy being effective in it.

3. Agito is very often "de-protagonized" during play, which is a fancy way of saying that he's not satisfied with playing, specifically in terms of character actions and even identity. This is a serious issue - a very common reaction, unfortunately, is for the person to expect and even to contribute to their own victimization, by "turtling," which forces the very power struggle they dislike to appear constantly.

4. The group is fairly unstable in terms of who does and does not play. Players who apparently are "in" disappear; players who apparently weren't show up. My question about this is: what play-circumstances have actually been recognizable as unilaterally fun for everyone in the group, throughout an entire session? Any at all?

So taking all four of those at once, I guess see very little of the shared commitment to the game, socially and creatively, that I've come to expect as a basic prerequisite of having a good time. So perhaps what I need to know most is, what's the good side of role-playing with this particular group of people, in this particular way?

I have tons and tons of questions about playing Exalted specifically that I'd like to go into. But the above Social Contract points are so important, and so overriding (the "biggest box" in my model), that I can't even begin with them until I have a better understanding at this level. Can you tell me the total number of players? The age range? Gender distribution? Any relatives among them? Romantic interactions? How often do you meet to play, and does anyone in the group do social stuff with anyone else in the group? Or anything else you can tell me at all?

Just a couple of other minor questions ...

I agree with Erling that providing key readings from the books would be a very good idea, or even just turning over the books and letting the players point out stuff that they like the most. I'm really not seeing why that doesn't seem like a good idea to you - can you explain that?

When you write, "I want Ranger One to direct the other characters to achieve goals. Those goals would be ones his character wants met," that makes me nervous to read. For one thing, it seems apparent to me that Ranger One has no interest in "character goals" at all. This is the guy who likes constructing characters rather than playing them, as you wrote. Can you really rely on him to take any sort of fellow player-grabbing role regarding character actions and decisions? Can you rely on Agito to trust him? - as they seem to have a history of not interacting especially well.

I'm glad to hear that your more recent session went well. Can you elaborate on that? What actual scenes and player-character actions really paid off? And how did they pay off, specifically? How could you tell when other people at the table were more engaged with what was going on?

Best,
Ron
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #9 on: December 08, 2003, 04:20:32 PM »

By the way, it's Eero, not Erling. I wouldn't mind, but we have an Erling (Rognli) on the other forum already. I'm not quite sure if the names are of the same root, but Eero and Eric most definitely are (from norse Eirik), so you can call me that if the long vocal throws you ;)

Quote from: Ron Edwards

I've been thinking about your situation a lot since you first posted. I've been reading Exalted pretty carefully lately and have been very interested in how people have played it, and what they found to enjoy or not to enjoy.


Any interesting revelations? I ask because, as I wrote earlier, I've been thinking about the game a lot too. It tantalises me, with it's colourful world and quality thought about the stories and themes. I'm not so hot with WW games in general, but they sure can write Setting, Color, Character and Situation. I'm just trying to figure out how to use it for a game without the clumsiness of the system and strange combat emphasis coming to the fore, with some kind of idea about what I'm doing. Whoever recognized the problem of WW as being an extreme modal incoherence coupled with practically nil advice on actual play sure didn't blow hot air.

I think I have located the problem to story construction. Either participationism or advanced narrativism seems warranted, with maybe a stylized and theatrical style in everything from table manners forward. Some metasystem maybe, to control scene framing?
1
Without I fear that the game will go towards that usual adventure game. Nothing wrong with that, and as I said, I've STed such a game. It's just that if I want to do that I'll rather do it in a non-predefined world, like my current D&D.

Formally my personal problem is the question of how to integrate massive amounts of world and color material into a game of some kind. Sure doesn't happen if you play by the book, and paradoxically the setting material is the only thing attracting me in the first place.

Quote

The trouble is discussing that without a whole lot of emotional tension going on. The internet medium, frankly, really sucks for this purpose, and so we all have to be careful.


Well said, although luckily this isn't so bad yet. I might as well write about this in the Site Discussion, the problem of 'net communication being so familiar and big. Shortly, to get the thread going again, I suggest that everybody assume the best when reading something. I've done that for some five years now and it leads all around to more efficient communication.

Quote

2. Most of your prep for the game consists of buying and reading the books. This isn't a bad thing, necessarily ... but, as Erling suggested, it can create a very big difference between the nature of your enthusiasm for the game and the enthusiasm of the other people. I suggest that your emphasis of Setting over Situation might be a bit troublesome, although I realize that what you're saying is to avoid programming scenes, especially in terms of outcomes. But I'm saying that Situation is key - especially if your main goal is empowering the players through character effectiveness. The players have to care about the conflict at hand, in order to enjoy being effective in it.


This I'm not so sure of. You essentially say that player empowerment (letting them in in the decision process) cannot be linked to world exploration? I admit that I haven't heard about it, but to get Exalted to work optimally I imagine that it's participationism or this. The world is, at least for me, the only reason to stand the dysfunctional rules and certain teleological assumptions there. If I'm not riffing primarily from it, I much rather play HQ.

Being that we want to avoid participationism for the time being and keep the players affecting the play, I'd do my utmost to keep the Setting focus too. As I admit above, it isn't a trivial problem how to incorporate it, but I do have some ideas. Most just involve changing the rules and metagame quite radically, so I won't go there without asking; I understand you are used to playing without excessive drift.

For the time being, spreading the vision about Creation is a good start. Making changing characters more fluid is another thing, and easy to implement without breaking the rules too much. It should conseivably help with these constant breaks in narration as players and characters change, and it helps move focus away from the Character to Setting. When the players learn to play the game by using the character as a symbol and instrument (part and parcel of lessening character focus) you can even do feats like changing the player of a central character on the fly; admittedly these are not for everyone, but I see that deep character immersion won't fly with a group of demigods with a flimsy reason (a 'Circle'? Hah!) to stick together.

One important thing to remember is to consider the kind of adventure to draw from the setting. I suggest staying simple and taking the material straight from the books. Why not play the canonical barbarian campaign from the Exalted: Lunars, for example? One of the strengths of the game is that these things are thought out, and the world resonates with those campaign themes they offer. WW has flaws, but if you can use them, their themes and motifs are quite good.

Another thread, Fancy-Schmancy Character Backgrounds, considers the same problem from player viewpoint. When a player might overload his character, a GM can simply overload his plots and ideas by trying for originality and freedom. He doesn't want to do the sensible, basic stories in the book. This phenomenon is best left for another thread, however.

What I'm saying here is, why the heck play cross-type Exalted as your first game? You are young, and you have time. Play a six-session barbarian lunar only game first, how about? Something with at least a little structure, to stop this bumbling. Cross-type is extremely hard, and even harder if you insist on player control. It removes focus from the limitations of the world when these extremely unlikely demigods from Solar, Lunar, Sidereal tribes hang out together doing nothing particularly. Play don't have to spring from character interests, and if you want to focus on the setting, better let the setting speak: pick one of the basic ideas, and do that.

I wrote about this earlier: player initiative doesn't mean that they do whatever they want. "Hey, I wanna play a sidereal." isn't player empowerment, that's just more kewl powerz. "Hey, how about I've met this God-blood before, and she's the daughter of this interesting Daimyo of Artificial Flight here in the book?" is, and it's based on the setting to boot. Deciding beforehand to play a limiting consept, like that lunar barbarian game, isn't limiting player initiative. On the contrary, it gives them something to base on. You get what you get if the players just shoot randomly, without centralized communication about what you are trying to do.

Hmm, I got lost for a bit there. I meant to write about combining setting focus and player empowerment, I distinctly remember. Well, the thing to remember is that if I have a problem with solving this conundrum in it's general form (how to focus setting at all entertainingly?), it's no wonder if it's hard with player initiative to boot. Port to HQ, I say.

Quote

So taking all four of those at once, I guess see very little of the shared commitment to the game, socially and creatively, that I've come to expect as a basic prerequisite of having a good time. So perhaps what I need to know most is, what's the good side of role-playing with this particular group of people, in this particular way?


Or to state it differently, have you talked about what you are doing, and at what conditions? Do you have an understanding on these commitment issues and what you are striving for with the game? The Exalted campaign we are envisioning here seems to me to be very challenging, so it's no wonder if it needs certain kind of skilled players and ST. Consider it.

Quote

I have tons and tons of questions about playing Exalted specifically that I'd like to go into.


Please do, as a general excercise. A pretty please?
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John Burdick
Member

Posts: 105


« Reply #10 on: December 08, 2003, 08:11:34 PM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards

1. Ranger One is typically "the GM" and in this case, he's not. He is also heavily committed to control-issues during play and utilizes both play-techniques and rules-adjustments as authorities in doing so. I could be very wrong about this, but all my experience points to such a person as a problematic player - power-issues and the role of central authority are very hard to give up, and being "just a player" entails giving up.


His behaviour as a player is usually to make an eccentric character and not engage during play. A couple times I forgot he was in a scene. Now that he's starting to participate he's becoming more controlling.

Quote from: Ron Edwards

I suggest that your emphasis of Setting over Situation might be a bit troublesome, although I realize that what you're saying is to avoid programming scenes, especially in terms of outcomes. But I'm saying that Situation is key - especially if your main goal is empowering the players through character effectiveness. The players have to care about the conflict at hand, in order to enjoy being effective in it.


Exactly. What I did in the beginning is layout aspects of the setting and build situation ideas with the players. I didn't consider one until I walked them through making their characters. After doing that, that situation would drive my ideas in an open ended way. The first five sessions were exactly what I wanted the game to be.

I call the failed sessions bad because they left me with nothing to build on. Some enemies tried to kill the PCs; maybe fighting them was fun. At the end of the session I didn't have anything. Colorful social scenes that had no significance would be bad in the same way.

Ranger One running a high concept game with only Jeff and I playing is predictably and consistently fun.

Agito reports having fun with Mike as a GM running D&D. Prior to this year Mike ran D&D on alternate weeks. We had a fun one shot of D&D with Agito as GM.  Ranger One, Agito's girlfriend Nancy, and I played the PCs.

Nancy mainly attended as a place to go other than stay home.

Quote from: Ron Edwards

But the above Social Contract points are so important, and so overriding (the "biggest box" in my model), that I can't even begin with them until I have a better understanding at this level.


Absolutely. That is why I came here instead of an Exalted board. I want to talk about people playing games.

The core group originated as high school students playing in the library. Those people are in their mid to upper twenties. Jeff, Agito, Ranger One, and Steve are in this group. Jeff's cousin Mike and Jeff's coworker Mike were active when I started, but aren't anymore. The only partner is Agito's unofficial wife Nancy. Brad lives in the same house as Ranger One where we meet, but never plays because of social contract issues.  Al worked with Jeff at one time. BTW, I noticed your preference for people's names. Agito and Ranger One are both named Jason.

We all go to movies together sometimes. On the fourth of July we all ate dinner and watched a couple of videos.  Most of them played Magic together in the past. Jeff, Agito, and Steve play Warhammer Fantasy wargame. Agito is chronically frustrated with that also. He has been known to quit after the first turn because he lost a character.

I'm 34 and met Agito shopping at his place of work(Suncoast). I'm a big fan of anime, and so are Agito (the name is from one) and Ranger One. Ranger one plays a internet radio station featuring Japanese pop music in background unless Steve is present. We trade or watch together. While Dead Like Me was running on Showtime, I watched with Ranger One every week.

Quote from: Ron Edwards

I agree with Erling that providing key readings from the books would be a very good idea, or even just turning over the books and letting the players point out stuff that they like the most. I'm really not seeing why that doesn't seem like a good idea to you - can you explain that?


The key readings idea worked with Steve. I imagine loaning him the books would be appealing for him also. Since I talk to Agito outside of game sessions I've covered much of the material verbally. I don't interact with Jeff outside of game meetings and group outings such as movies. I've only met Al three times. Both Jeff and Al say they don't want to read a book. I often leave my entire stack of books at Ranger One's house rather than cart it home, and he's read the parts he wanted.

Quote from: Ron Edwards

When you write, "I want Ranger One to direct the other characters to achieve goals. Those goals would be ones his character wants met," that makes me nervous to read. For one thing, it seems apparent to me that Ranger One has no interest in "character goals" at all. This is the guy who likes constructing characters rather than playing them, as you wrote.


Yes, I realized that from the beginning. The problem is he changed his posture. I decided to have him play transient characters, so he could design a new guest star nearly every session. The character he's playing now was created to get one of other characters out of a crisis. Once he said he liked this character and wanted to play it again, I didn't want to say no.

Eero's impression that I let players do anything they want would have been more acceptable if he had distinguished between wanting abstractly and doing. There are times when I would have decided differently with a few hours reflection, but at the moment I let someone do whatever he wanted. In this case, I let Ranger One follow a whim AFTER I ran aground. The specific case of letting Agito play a character we both liked was emphatically not one of those cases.

Quote from: Ron Edwards

Can you rely on Agito to trust him? - as they seem to have a history of not interacting especially well.


Agito won't play until after the holiday retail season is over, so I postponed thinking about that.

I didn't say the most recent session went well; I said it was better.  It ended with a situation I can develop. I'm not left with a yawning void in the future. The session I decided to ignore left a situation where the expected outcome was me crushing them completely. It was Al's first session, and none of his choices brought about the dead end situation.

John
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John Burdick
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Posts: 105


« Reply #11 on: December 08, 2003, 08:44:41 PM »

Quote from: Eero Tuovinen

This I'm not so sure of. You essentially say that player empowerment (letting them in in the decision process) cannot be linked to world exploration? I admit that I haven't heard about it, but to get Exalted to work optimally I imagine that it's participationism or this. The world is, at least for me, the only reason to stand the dysfunctional rules and certain teleological assumptions there. If I'm not riffing primarily from it, I much rather play HQ.


I agree with Ron. I can derive a situation from how the player reacts to the setting, but without doing so I can't get the game I want.

Quote from: Eero Tuovinen

Hmm, I got lost for a bit there. I meant to write about combining setting focus and player empowerment, I distinctly remember. Well, the thing to remember is that if I have a problem with solving this conundrum in it's general form (how to focus setting at all entertainingly?), it's no wonder if it's hard with player initiative to boot. Port to HQ, I say.


I don't see how this is different than saying "Port to <neatgame>". I own Sorcerer, maybe I should use that? (Rhetorical question intended to demonstrate that I don't understand.)

I've talked at length with both Ranger One and Agito both about the ongoing conflict between them and what I want in my game.

John
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #12 on: December 09, 2003, 01:58:07 AM »

Quote from: SquirrelCentral
Quote from: Eero Tuovinen

Port to HQ, I say.


I don't see how this is different than saying "Port to <neatgame>". I own Sorcerer, maybe I should use that? (Rhetorical question intended to demonstrate that I don't understand.)


Hmm... haven't considered Sorcerer for Exalted... A little too narrow in focus for a grand fantasy, I'd say. Especially as inborn power is such a central theme to Exalted, can't say I see it as viable. Diametrically opposed in thematic content, even.

The reason I picked HeroQuest is that that's what I myself have been pondering. I'm not talking only about mechanics, but about the whole shebang bundle of metaexpectations and style of play. Storyteller games have a strong vision of their own, but it fares poorly against a cry of player freedom, being almost illusionist in it's ideal of play. I simply see that applying HQ, or at least relevant methodology thereof, might resolve the problems I personally see in playing Exalted.

Anyway, I don't seriously consider that using another system is viable in your case, that comment is just an expression of my own frustation with wrestling against those constantly rethrown initiative rolls. Try to read my pondering for something useful, or if it doesn't ring any bells, ignore it.

Right now I'm however stymied for further comments about the actual situation here. I'll just huddle here and wait for mr. Edwards or some other worthies to expound about their ideas, OK? And do tell if you yourself find further illumination on the subject. Exalted is a hard one, as I said at the start, and I'm interested in what others gain from it.
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greyorm
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« Reply #13 on: December 09, 2003, 07:05:03 AM »

Heya Eero,

Yep, sounds like I misinterpreted your points. Thanks for clearing them up. Returning to "lurk & think" mode.
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
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Thor Olavsrud
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« Reply #14 on: December 10, 2003, 08:38:09 AM »

Hi SquirrelCentral,

I've been having my own troubles with Exalted, so I can relate. But from what you describe, it seems to me that most of your difficulties are really outside the framework of the game itself, and have more to do with differences in what the players want out of the game, levels of commitment, etc.

Probably your best bet is to have a sit down with those players who are committed -- outside the context of the game -- and really talk about what you all want out of it. Make sure you're all on the same page and that your play goals are compatible. Otherwise you're just going to end up with a lot of frustration and dissatisfaction. This could be the hardest step, but it might also be illuminating.

After that, I suggest another hard step. Scrap everything that has come before. Then sit down with a blank slate and discuss which conflicts in the setting really interest you. There are tons -- War between the tree kingdoms (Haltan v. Linowan), barbarians v. civilization, the disappearance of the Empress and the impending civil war in the Empire as the dynastic houses vie for the throne, the rising of the Deathlords and their attempts to end Creation, the reemergence of the Solars and the way they overthrow the social order by their sheer existence, etc.

Then collectively choose a spot on the map where that conflict comes into focus. Make sure the situation there is tense -- about to explode into conflict. Make sure your players have a say in how the conflicts expresses itself in the setting, different factions, etc. Obviously later on you can add secrets and rivalries that your characters can stumble into in play, but for now focus on the big picture and put it all on the table.

Once you have that, you can all talk about the characters you want to play and how they fit into this picture. The important thing is to make sure that each character has a stake in how the conflict turns out. Exalted characters must be absolutely driven. They have the power to completely remake the world in their image, they must have a good idea of what that image is. Even if it is possible for Exalts not to have this sort of drive, the PCs will BECAUSE they're PCs. Riddle of Steel's Spiritual Attributes and Sorcerer's Kickers are excellent tools for this sort of thing, and might help you along.

I should emphasize that in the step above, the players (including the GM) should create the characters as a group. Discuss your ideas. Make suggestions. Allow the players to riff on each other's ideas.

If you do all this, you will almost certainly come up with an explosive setting, and players who are really dedicated to their PCs and each other's.
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