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Author Topic: Bumpy Exalted game  (Read 16044 times)
John Burdick
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« Reply #15 on: December 10, 2003, 10:30:16 AM »

I think I should have asked how long the players intended to participate. If I had considered that it had to end before fall classes start, I could've done much better. Playing my game for 7 consecutive weeks instead of every other week would have allowed a complete game before the end of summer.

No matter how well involved the players are in the situation, the game will flop if they don't show up.

I compounded that by trying to patch the game and carry on. The two least engaged players were the only ones I had left after two rounds of patching. The only reason I didn't drop the game completely was Al actively wanting to play. Since he didn't participate in either of the two previous versions, he didn't provide any continuity of interest.

I'm not sure a complete new start is enough, given the players I have. Maybe I should set aside the whole idea until I have more than one enthusiastic player and then create a situation that can be played out within the time available. (Jeff likes his character, but doesn't play in a manner I'm satisfied with.)

Here's a question: I allowed the players to create characters that supported their usual habits of play in terms of abilities. Was that a mistake?

John
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #16 on: December 10, 2003, 12:31:01 PM »

Hello,

SQ, I'm not ignoring your questions, but I think I'm going to address them from a completely different angle. Thor, if you would, I'd appreciate your input about this angle too.

My reading of Exalted yields this preliminary response from me:

Extremely dedicated Illusionist play with maximal GM-Force exerted over protagonist decisions and actions, in terms of "the story." The GM gets "the story" directly from the features of Setting, whether metaplot or not. The GM also dictates (explicitly!) how the characters were enlisted in their Situation, as well as how the characters feel about it, which is to say, 100% motivated to swing into action in a particular fashion.

Player effort and authority is concentrated on immediate tactical advantage during confrontations, including remarkable opportunities for "stacking" in the sense of D&D3E Feats and most CCG design.


It seems to me as if the players are expected to be delighted with their character's effectiveness in the immediate context of a fight, and for that delight to contribute to the Black Curtain concealing the GM's absolute authority over why their characters are fighting, whom they are fighting, and for what. The scale of players' authority and input is handled at the "seconds" level; the scale of the GM's (in tandem with the publishers' stuff) is handled at the "scenes and sessions" level.

I think a comparison with Feng Shui is useful: Feng Shui is above-board about all aspects of the game being an excuse for a series of genre(s)-celebratory fight scenes. In Exalted, those aspects are dressed up in New Age "meaning" to the extent of proclaiming"important stuff."

It also strikes me that, unlike Feng Shui (which includes many effective non-Gamist-rewarding features), playing Exalted runs the serious risk of the Gamist rewards and features for the players completely overriding whatever story-stuff the GM is trying to impose or use as context. In other words, I think the Simulationist features of Exalted are misplaced as the "main" features, and will be enjoyed almost exclusively by reading the books - whereas actual play will see the usual Gamist takeover, or perhaps a lot of power-struggles over whether characters are really going to do whatever it is they're supposed to do.

Now, I could be very wrong about all of this. I'm finding Exalted to be a slow read because every detail I find seems consistent with this view, cementing the chances for dysfunctional play more and more with each one. But as I say, I could be wrong.

SQ, this quote seems consistent with my perceptions as well:

Quote
The two least engaged players were the only ones I had left after two rounds of patching. The only reason I didn't drop the game completely was Al actively wanting to play. Since he didn't participate in either of the two previous versions, he didn't provide any continuity of interest.


The person who wants to play most is the person who isn't playing, but rather (I presume) reading, and the ones who continue to play are "least engaged" ...

Do you think I'm on track?

Best,
Ron
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #17 on: December 10, 2003, 01:49:10 PM »

Could you clarify, Ron, how is it Illusionist if the control is so explicitly laid out? Your description sounds more participationist. What form does the "black curtain" take in this case?

Also, might not this be "trailblazing"? That is, the GM leading the players from one Gamist arena to the next to link the story together (how come that reminds me of the Pokemon TV show)?

I'm intensely interested because of the importance of Exalted, and my near complete lack of exposure. I completly understand that you'll want to wait for Squirrel's response before answering, but I'm hoping that my requested clarifications may help him too.

Mike
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #18 on: December 10, 2003, 02:16:20 PM »

Hi Mike,

Might be Participationism, might be trailblazing ... whatever. I don't mean to sound flip, but the distinction among these things never seems as important to me as it seems to for others. What matters to me is the presence or absence of the GM-Force. (Review: "Force" = GM control over what player-characters decide to do, what they do, and how it turns out.)

You're probably right, though. Pending confirmation of my perceptions, I'd enjoy playing Exalted more if we just left the Black Curtain off. And so far, I suppose I can't think of any terribly explicit "Black Ops" Techniques sections in the book; it just hands all the control of the game-events (besides spending points on combinations and making tactical decisions during combat) to the GM and that's that.

My query in the post above should probably be clarified, then. I perceive that the players' satisfaction is apparently derived from Gamist play on the small scale plus "reception"-based enjoyment of the GM's presentation of the context for the fights. I perceive that the GM's satisfaction is apparently derived from providing that context in the most absorbing manner possible.

Therefore I ask, are these goals (hybrid Simulationist + Gamist with the latter in a subordinate role) consistently possible? Or instead, as I see it, highly likely to serve a double audience of primarily Simulationist readers and primarily Gamist players, with a lot of GM/player disconnects arising in instances of actual play?

I guess my current view of your situation, SC, is that you picked up what looked like a great instrument for some well-understood goals on your part, and it turned out to emit horrific discordant squeals instead. I very much appreciate your post about the people involved, and I now have a much better idea of what might be happening ... unfortunately, I also now think that the game you're holding is fighting you.

Best,
Ron

P.S. Eero, sorry about the name; you and Erling started posting at the same time and I was merely confused. Your thoughts on all the above GNS stuff and Exalted would also be appreciated.
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John Burdick
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« Reply #19 on: December 10, 2003, 03:18:43 PM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards

I guess my current view of your situation, SC, is that you picked up what looked like a great instrument for some well-understood goals on your part, and it turned out to emit horrific discordant squeals instead. I very much appreciate your post about the people involved, and I now have a much better idea of what might be happening ... unfortunately, I also now think that the game you're holding is fighting you.


I don't have any problem accepting that the published text would in the future undermine my attempt. I don't believe that has happened yet.  The problems I've encountered are clearly the people involved, including of course me. With the extent that I'm ignoring many of the rules to simplify management and that no else having read much of the text, I have to believe that player expectations are more based on prior experience.

It'll take some thought to decide whether the effort is worth resuming given both your concerns and the manifest difficulties I've already encountered.

The critical question is to what extent I can produce play with any system that satisfies both me and my friends. The one session of Adventure! I ran, I consciously used an participationist approach that fit my image of the game. Does switching to a book where my vision matches the text better solve my problem?

I know that at least some of the people would be happy if I just played the same way as Ranger One. I also know that Agito resented some of that while Nancy was bored.

John
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John Burdick
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« Reply #20 on: December 10, 2003, 03:53:31 PM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards

It also strikes me that, unlike Feng Shui (which includes many effective non-Gamist-rewarding features), playing Exalted runs the serious risk of the Gamist rewards and features for the players completely overriding whatever story-stuff the GM is trying to impose or use as context. In other words, I think the Simulationist features of Exalted are misplaced as the "main" features, and will be enjoyed almost exclusively by reading the books - whereas actual play will see the usual Gamist takeover, or perhaps a lot of power-struggles over whether characters are really going to do whatever it is they're supposed to do.


I don't yet have any negative feelings about Gamist takeover.  I'd be perfectly happy to see some Step On Up volunteers. I was pleased with Agito's enthusiam for showing off his stats and milking stunts. I suspect he probably favors gamist; I can't tell confidently because I have so rarely seen him really dig into a game. If my players suddenly developed a compelling urge to loot dungeons, we'd be good to go. It's having to tell the players that their characters want to that bugs me.

For myself, the first part of the books I read is the chargen followed by charms. Afterwards, the talky part is more palatable.

Quote

The person who wants to play most is the person who isn't playing, but rather (I presume) reading, and the ones who continue to play are "least engaged" ...


Sorry, I'm afraid I've confused you. Too many people and events introduced in a scattered manner. The player that is eager to play is Al who only recently started coming. Out of the four players I originally started with (Agito, Steve, Ranger One, Jeff) only two remain (Ranger One, Jeff). This now gives me three players (Al, Ranger One, Jeff). Nancy played in the first practice session using Tomb of Five Corners. No one else I may have mentioned has played.

John
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greyorm
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« Reply #21 on: December 10, 2003, 08:26:48 PM »

Ron,

I get what you're saying about gamism being the overriding aspect of play -- at least, in regards to what the player controls -- but it left me wondering about Virtues (and, to an extent, Flaws)?

Seems to me Virtues serve the same sort of function in Exalted that SA's do in Riddle of Steel -- in that they guide action. Admitedly, they are limited tactically in the number of uses that can be gained from them, and that's a point against them.

However, it would seem the smart GM would make adventures centered around the Virtues -- how does a hero behave when his values prove burdensome? Virtues seem tailor made to support of this avenue of play, giving the players some (significant) say in what happens in the game at the table.

Thoughts?
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #22 on: December 10, 2003, 11:59:26 PM »

Now that we have some more detail, I'd more or less agree about the problem being more on the social side of things. I'm not regrettably any good with specific advice on that. Anything I say is probably horribly inappropriate and in the end amounts to "if you don't like 'em, play with someone else".

Let's see... John? We have a good enough picture about the play and particulars of Agito and R1. I don't however see much about Jeff. Are you familiar enough with his play to give us some context?

Anyway, Agito seems a kind of familiar kind of player, I have had similar ones. Frustation with set-backs, strive for conflict efficiency? In fact, my brother is one, and just yesterday my D&D had some major trouble with the feature. I'll assume quite much here, and might give entirely inappropriate advice. This isn't a particularly uncommon player type, here's some of my insight on the matter:

This kind of player actually and truthfully hates conflict while needing it. His play style doesn't confess easily to the existence of the more sublime narrative elements (remorse and regret for failure, non-dramatic conflict situations, as examples), so he has to look for the culturally stereotypical ones, like fights and adventure. The problem is, while he decidedly longs for the danger, he has trouble with dealing with it. For this kind of player games like D&D and Exalted are clearly and without doubt a kind of wish fulfillment - they want to feel feelings of competence, and thus they are driven towards conflicts their particular art education recognizes as meaningful (usually violent ones). The problem comes up when this is dealt with as Gamism. This kind of player isn't a gamist. He uses play as a kind of therapy (I won't try to explain what for), and all failure - an inevitable part of a gamist conflict - is poison for his game. He frustates easily, and especially easy it is when the conflict isn't archetypal. Your words about Agito fearing for his magic items in games is telling to me: he is again and again confronted with challenges that are too much for him, against which he cannot cope. Actual gamist would conseivably rise for the challenge instead of sulking, but that's exactly what this kind of player does. The challenge, instead of bolstering his self-picture, has eroded it.

The trick with this kind of a player (assuming Agito is one; if I'm off-base, ignore me) is to provide challenges he understands and ensure that he will win them. Even when he doesn't, it's easier if the challenge is one he understands. Easy, the real problem comes from the other players: it's a rare ST who is content with running wish-fulfillment. Time and again I've however proved to myself that it's a failure proposition to engage this player with insurmountable odds or a seemingly impossible challenge: those will just depress him. I've got the best  and most satisfying (for us other players) results by making the challenge a non-issue while keeping the facade of action adventure: by playing a game with strong player initiative where it's explicitly stated that players cannot lose (a suitable system and a superhero setting, for example; I use my own system, and just now noticed that I cannot name a public one), this kind of player can slowly get rid of his nervousness. If the game allows for almost unlimited player power the player will at first go to ridiculous lengths to protect his character from failure, but in the long run it will penetrate: the GM won't allow him to lose, so why bother? It's much more fun to enjoy the thrills and the feeling of competence.

Exalted has a world that technically works for these players: the characters are head-and-shoulders above the normal, and thus they should feed the self-image quite well. Most of WW game content is pointed towards enabling players to build these real bad-ass characters. The problem comes from even WW being geared towards the players with a less fragile self-esteem: Exalted assumes that the characters will confront challenges that are similarly bad-ass. This can be counteracted by heavily down-playing challenge: make other Exalted suitably rare and disorganized (easy to do and stay canonical, even) and put the PCs up against mortal challenges. Those they can defeat handily, but don't let it stop the celebrations: from the mortal viewpoint the characters are bad-ass whether they are that on the exalt-god axle of things. If putting in those gods and exalts, let them be heads of mortal organizations and always singly: a group of exalts should have no trouble with that, while still allowing them even greater heights of bad-assness.

Anyway, it seems Agito has been content enough with your game to date, I just wanted to offer the observation in the case you run aground this problem: the kind of player I talk about will play eminently well and sensibly, as long as he succeeds. After failure he will shatter like glass if the challenge doesn't conform to something he can digest. If I interpreted this correctly you should consider removing the failure element alltogether.

Then on to R1: I'd still stand with the idea that encaging him depends on giving him a deeper access to the world than mere player status gives. It seems from his former play behavior that he, too, is immersed in a particular dream of roleplaying: like we all, he gets into rpgs because of a vision of play he searches for. In his case the vision seems to escape so dramatically that he has to start again and again, trying to correct things by fiddling with the rules with an insufficient toolbox for the job. What is it he has searched as GM, and why he doesn't seem to find it? Or is the process itself calling to him? Be that as it may, assuming he is more comfortable with GM status, that's what he might need as a player too. The roles can be blurred: how about encaging him to a story of utter manipulation? Give his character the means and the motivation to run these illusionist games in the game world. This even has source support in the game, with all those immortal gods and exalts directing the course of the world behind the scenes. Another possibility is giving him elements of the setting to play with: let him stat NPCs and drive the plot. The correct path depends on which part of GMing he is drawn to: the power, the process of play or the strong direction he can give to the story. In the first case there's not much to be done, apart from playing something that's far enough from a traditional rpg that he cannot map it to his usual picture of GM-player relationship.

Assuming the above and remembering your goal of player empowerment it still seems to me that you have to go deeper than vanilla Exalted allows to give your players what they want while getting it yourself. Exalted strongly encourages character/setting demarcation where the character is sole territory of the player, while setting is the domain of the ST. The players I describe above won't be happy with this: the first one will indeed want to control his character, but in such a way that it is primary compared to the setting. The second is not satisfied with only his character, but wants to have some more.

So in one way or another, you'll have to give the players more responsibility for what you are doing at the gaming night. This needn't be through changes in the rules, although that is possible too. I won't expound more on the implications, as I feel that this advice has to be inaccurate, based as it is on so scant data on the actual players.

Forgetting the above analysis, let's focus on the concrete problem, without trying to second-guess the players: as others have said, most of the actual trouble has been a part of group incoherence: your players change all the time. Conseivably this can be engineered for (as I've done with my D&D), but that'd mean throwing most of the higher-order goals here. It's easier to deal with it in some type of play contract before looking for any other problems.

That was easy. As I said, I'm not too good at this actual people thing, at least when it involves guessing about them over the 'net.

Now, on to the theory: I agree in all particulars with Ron about the GNS status of Exalted. Especially the idea that the setting is actually a red herring and play will be gamist illusionism is to my mind proved clearly by all efforts to play the game I've heard of. The only exception are hard-core immersionists (of which we have an ample supply in Finland), who are quite content to play the illusion, and therefore try to avoid the gamist content; by doing otherwise they'd doom their characters to a messy death in the hands of the system. If the ST and the players are on the same bandwidth on this, you get the most interesting analysis of Exalted to date, one we saw on the finnish usenet a while back: the problem of Exalted is that there isn't nearly enough world information on the everyday life in the Creation. How are you supposed to play this game when you don't even know how that-and-that culture prepares it's food?

And the difference between illusionism and participationism is indeed inconsequential here. It's a trivial thing to break the illusion whether you mean to or not. The key is that Exalted doesn't recognize it's leaning here, and indeed doesn't see anything strange in it. Therefore the game never explicitly states anything about the matter. It's assumed to be illusionist because it pays lip service to player protagonism, while encouraging "good storytelling".

As to if this is possible at all to play, we have those larpers and other "real roleplayers" in abundance here who would see no trouble at all, as I intimated earlier. They'd do a tiniest bit of drift by removing the combat focus, after which the game would do quite splendidly for them, with the ST running a world simulation and the players doing nothing at all (not kidding here, been to these games).

Putting finnish freaks aside, looking at published adventures should be an edifying experience: how does Ron's analysis stand against them? The one that springs to mind from the Time of Tumult features PCs travelling to the far north in search of fabled artifacts and finding there an old manse guarded by a treacherous spirit and sieged by some thousands of demons. The adventure can be analysed in three parts: the characters' travel to the north, them finding out about the manse and travelling there, and them exploring the manse and defeating it's guardian.

The point: the above adventure is essentially D&D. Actually, newer D&D products have quite the same elements, even providing those WW style psych profiles on the NPCs. This is sensible, as what Ron pictured for us is the exact same playing style some people endorse nowadays for D&D: away with the dungeon hack, welcome grand adventure! That grand adventure then means a convoluted dungeon hack embedded in a story. The key to such a design is that the gamist element has to be directed towards the story: give the gamist reward from following the illusion. And so does that adventure from ToT whose name I forget: characters have to get to the north to get the artifacts, the characters have to find the manse to get the artifacts, the characters have to defeat the guardian to get the manse, not die gruesomely and get the artifacts. The gamism drives towards the plot, with no incoherence at all.

So I'd say this is both possible and somewhat usual nowadays. As long as you limit yourself to stories with ulterior motives coinciding with the gamist rewards there's not too many problems. The game style you get is stilted, though: a significant percentage of GMs will expect the players to play fullsomely along with the narration while waiting for the next gamist decision. They of course won't, as the players interested in the gamist content rarely can or will switch gears to provide interesting dialogue or other color for the game. From here we go on to the pawning usual in WW games: the ST represses his desire for good roleplaying, forgetting his vision of enthusiastic players. Instead he'll use NPCs talking to one another and ruthlessly directs PCs to the next scene in his grand storyline. The players on the other hand have a chance to grow bored when the ST forgets to pay lip service to the illusion himself: remember, they are along because their gamist motivation happens to coincide with that clever adventure in ToT. Luckily our culture has taught the ST to build stories through violence, and WW has taught him to resolve violence through the gamist system. Thus the game will blod along with the ST dreaming about grand stories in an exciting and deep world and the players dreaming about that last dot of Martial Arts.

So it's possible, but usually not very rewarding, at least compared to a truly coherent game. It should be noted that this has been quite clear to, I suspect, those of us hoping to use the game for something. It will need to be drifted, and aggressively, to get it somewhere useful. Preferably something that preserves the setting. A friend of mine has planned a game of Exalted for next january: first he fiddled some with the setting and then ported the whole thing to Riddle of Steel. Maybe a tad too much drifting, what's left of the original game when you do that?

Anyway, I'd continue about the possibilities of getting the game to work, but time presses. Some other time, maybe?
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John Burdick
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« Reply #23 on: December 11, 2003, 04:37:46 AM »

Eero, very good comments. (Oh, I changed my log in name to avoid further awkwardness.)

Quote from: Eero Tuovinen

Let's see... John? We have a good enough picture about the play and particulars of Agito and R1. I don't however see much about Jeff. Are you familiar enough with his play to give us some context?


Hide and attack from surprise. That's his play style. Really. He's completely focused on character effectiveness in the narrowest sense.

Quote from: Eero Tuovinen

For this kind of player games like D&D and Exalted are clearly and without doubt a kind of wish fulfillment - they want to feel feelings of competence, and thus they are driven towards conflicts their particular art education recognizes as meaningful (usually violent ones). The problem comes up when this is dealt with as Gamism. This kind of player isn't a gamist. He uses play as a kind of therapy (I won't try to explain what for), and all failure - an inevitable part of a gamist conflict - is poison for his game. He frustates easily, and especially easy it is when the conflict isn't archetypal. Your words about Agito fearing for his magic items in games is telling to me: he is again and again confronted with challenges that are too much for him, against which he cannot cope.


This is very much like Agito. The worst part of his experience is that in Ranger One's games, he fails in a personal effort while the script causes a success in a story sense. How does one compete with a GM that makes his own rules, railroads the game, and impairs your ability by fiat before declaring you victor?

Quote from: Eero Tuovinen

If the game allows for almost unlimited player power the player will at first go to ridiculous lengths to protect his character from failure, but in the long run it will penetrate: the GM won't allow him to lose, so why bother? It's much more fun to enjoy the thrills and the feeling of competence.


Ranger One won't let him lose in a story sense, but Agito sees his irrelevance as failure. I've played characters with the minimum possible score in the only combat skill I took. I've taken Charisma and Leadership as my supernatural powers: I Leadership the pilot to escape the dragon. I played a xenoarchaeologist/linguist based on Daniel Jackson from Stargate SG1.

Quote from: Eero Tuovinen

This can be counteracted by heavily down-playing challenge: make other Exalted suitably rare and disorganized (easy to do and stay canonical, even) and put the PCs up against mortal challenges. Those they can defeat handily, but don't let it stop the celebrations: from the mortal viewpoint the characters are bad-ass whether they are that on the exalt-god axle of things. If putting in those gods and exalts, let them be heads of mortal organizations and always singly: a group of exalts should have no trouble with that, while still allowing them even greater heights of bad-assness.


Add in the general absence of GM plot and fudging and you've pretty much got my vision.

Quote

The roles can be blurred: how about encaging him to a story of utter manipulation? Give his character the means and the motivation to run these illusionist games in the game world. This even has source support in the game, with all those immortal gods and exalts directing the course of the world behind the scenes.


Now do you understand why Agito has Full Moon soak/regen monster while Ranger One has a Gold Faction Sidereal? It wasn't because I was giving into player demands. I was doing what seemed best at the time. I think you already know what Jeff has.(Night) I'm uncertain about the suitablity of Al's build because I never played with him before.

Quote from: Eero Tuovinen

So in one way or another, you'll have to give the players more responsibility for what you are doing at the gaming night. This needn't be through changes in the rules, although that is possible too. I won't expound more on the implications, as I feel that this advice has to be inaccurate, based as it is on so scant data on the actual players.


Your comments are highly relevant.  The blind spot is that I haven't talked about myself.

I don't like giving physical descriptions, in-character dialog, making detailed plots or maps, or even naming characters.

John
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Thor Olavsrud
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« Reply #24 on: December 11, 2003, 10:13:41 AM »

Hi Ron,

I don't know how helpful this is going to be for John, so maybe we should split it into a new thread? Anyway, here goes.

I'm not sure that you're on the right track, but I admit that it's been a fair while since I've looked at the books, and I never really tried to see it in that context. What I can say, is that the authors of the game clearly devoted a lot of focus on the idea of protagonizing players, as embodied in the "Say Yes" philosophy. Whether the system fights their intentions in this regard is another matter.

At its core, the game philosophy seems to be that if the players attempt to have their characters do something, AND IT IS COOL, the GM should not only run with it, but play it up.

This certainly has tactical elements. For instance, the text goes into explicit detail about using Stunts as insurance, i.e., if a player has his character perform a stunt that would realistically result in death if the stunt fails, the GM should not kill the character for failing.

In my experience, stunts are vastly better incorporated in Exalted than they are in Feng Shui. For instance, in Feng Shui, characters tend to do stunts when fighting mooks, rather than when fighting named enemies, because stunts would often degrade your effectiveness to the point where it became impossible to affect those named enemies. In Exalted, that's not the case. Players tend to pull out their best stunts at the most dramatic moments in order to maximize effectiveness AND the drama/coolness of the scene.

One interesting angle to explore, and I'm sure groups are all over the map when it comes to this, is how much directorial power the players take when using stunts. Some, I'm sure, will only come up with stunts based on the objects the GM describes in the environment. Others will take it upon themselves to define the scene through their stunts. I do not recall seeing any explicit discussion of this in the text, but it has been a while.

Also, stunts have greater scope in Exalted. They are not just for action scenes. everything from a tea ceremony to a political speech can benefit from stunts if the player is sufficiently creative. In my experience, it is often these sort of stunts that cause players to dip into directorial power, as they take charge of the environment to come up with their descriptions.

But the authors also assume the players will have a great deal of power to make more fundamental changes. For instance, Geoff Grabowski (the Exalted Developer) has gone on record numerous times that Exalted will have no more than a token metaplot because the Exalted characters are so powerful that they ARE the metaplot. It is assumed that the characters will enact large-scale changes on the world and essentially rewrite the setting in short order. It reminds me of HeroQuest in this regard.

On the other hand, there isn't a lot of explicit discussion about social contract and power issues between players and GM (other than a little bit of stuff about GMs upholding the coolness of the PCs).

The Virtues, I think, were a somewhat rudimentary attempt to do what Riddle of Steel's SAs accomplish. I'm not convinced they work that well. I've seen some GMs really make them central to games, while others tend to ignore them. For the most part, I ignore them. Many players, I think,  will tend to go for the Valor and Conviction virtues, as they don't see them as traits their characters will come into conflict with anyway. Not many players, who make gamist decisions at least part of the time, will run away or back down when they think they are right anyway. Fewer are willing to take the Compassion or Temperance virtues.

While I ignore them, I have seen players justify "my guy" play based on the virtues on their sheets.

Hopefully virtues will be revisited in the player's guide that is scheduled for publication this year.

Personally my own frustrations with the system have to do with scaling. It is very difficult to come up with NPC stats on the fly in the system if the NPCs are at all important. When prepping for a game, I tend to focus on NPC goals and personality more than stats. But that doesn't work too well in Exalted. NPCs that the PCs have come into conflict with have either been no challenge at all, or exceptionally deadly. While I'm not a stickler for game balance, it's really anti-climactic when a bad guy has been built up for several sessions, and the players have really come to loathe him, and then he is taken down with one stroke when they finally confront him.

At this point, when we try to play Exalted again, I'm very much considering using HQ as the ruleset.

I have some more thoughts on this, but this post is already getting pretty long. I'll be happy to go into more detail if any of this interests you.
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Blake Hutchins
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« Reply #25 on: December 11, 2003, 10:43:22 AM »

Having long been fascinated with the setting, and on a meta-level, the appeal of Exalted, I'd like to add a few observations.

Ron's take on Gamism taking over in Actual Play strikes me as right on the money.  Based on my experience creating an Exalted character, the thinking moves quickly into tactical analysis of Charm efficacy, Essence budgets, and Backgrounds to maximize character effectiveness.  A second - and I think secondary - priority is welding the character into the setting, but that's a subject the thread on spiffy, baroque backgrounds addresses.

Here and at RPG.net, I see a number of threads asking for feedback on how to port Exalted to a different system.  So far, discussion has pointed to Feng Shui, Wushu, HeroQuest, Tri-Stat, TROS, and d20 as alternatives.  I don't know of any other game out there that spurs such excitement about setting and color together with dissatisfaction about the rules.  It looks to me as though many folks quickly realize a disconnect exists, so they go looking for something else on which to hang the setting.

The books contain some decent discussion on ideas for different kinds of stories, portrayal of color, and thematic direction for the various species of Exalted.  However, there's very little guidance and nothing fresh about group dynamics and social contract.  Instead, you get the default assumptions about party formation, riffs on Golden Rules, and advice to GMs on how to push the characters through the story.  To me, it's a clear example of Illusionist text.  Player empowerment via stunts and color descriptions remains at a tactical level and is fairly marginal, though I think the formalization of the stunt bonus rules is a departure from the usual WW system.

In Actual Play, I found the system surprisingly disempowering, inasmuch as you can build up obscene die pools and still trip over the whiff factor on a regular basis (try rolling 36 dice and netting fewer than five successes).  Discussion at RPG.net about Actual Play indicates that Exalted combat in particular moves at a cumbersome pace (high handling time is the culprit).

Much of the discussion on WW's Exalted forums focuses on dissecting the intricacies of Charm operation and complaining about game balance with this or that Charm or Spell.   This in addition to the usual speculation about metaplot, which is still present in Exalted, even if at a significantly lower level than in the other WW lines.  The few threads asking for help on how to run a story drive at "kewl stuff" and "is this strong enough opposition" rather than how to engage characters.

The comments about using Virtues to encourage player-owned story goals are interesting, but while I love the idea of Virtues, I'm gonna go out on a limb and say they ultimately shoehorn the characters just as much as the other WW parameters.  TROS Spiritual Attributes are a lot better fit because they're open-ended and player-customized.  Just because you're Valorous in Exalted, it doesn't connect to goals and thereby to Bangs.  The Virtues are ultimately static elements in contributing to player-driven story, as contrasted with the TROS SAs.  Interestingly, Shreyas Samprat offered a variant on the Wushu port of Exalted rules  (see this thread for details) that used the Virtues as Primary Attributes in place of a Physical/Mental/Social split, and in that light, the Virtues almost work.

Alright,  I don't have much advice to offer beyond what's already been said.  I'll just reiterate that with such a huge setting, establishment of initial situation, character interrelationships, and player goals needs laser-like focus and should be a central point of discussion within the group before character creation.

Best,

Blake
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #26 on: December 12, 2003, 12:47:40 AM »

Hohum, forgot to write about the virtues. Isn't it clear that Exalted virtues are a limiting game mechanic, not constructive? Their main effects come from game efficiency (with spirit charms and saving throws) and giving stereotypical guidelines for character play. "My character is valorous so I should do this." or even "Your character is valorous, are you sure you want to do that?", and in the worst case "Throw your compassion against valor to see if you can do that."

This is logical from a character simulation point-of-view, and that is what the virtues are meant to be. They posit that these four (why the idiots didn't opt for a five-part system here is beyond me) virtues are central psychological elements for the Creation and therefore give quite powerful behind-the-scenes thematic direction and ideas. There just isn't anything even nearly narrativistic in them, so they are quite a different animal from TROS SAs, which are customized hooks. The same goes for the Great Curse, which just simulates a certain kind of psychological structure, that in optimal situation realizes related themes in the story.

Quote from: Thor

At its core, the game philosophy seems to be that if the players attempt to have their characters do something, AND IT IS COOL, the GM should not only run with it, but play it up.


Thor: your argument drives for Ron's statement, not against. You say that the players have and should have great leeway with stunts and "cool ideas". That is so in the books. However, this doesn't translate to player initiative, but only to player control of color. Stunts are not clearly meant for affecting meaningful decisions, only for micro-level description. You cannot kill the bad guy with a stunt, or do anything else important. You can decide that there is a chandelier conveniently for you to grab and swing on, but this is power most games give you anyway. Only the most anally simulationist designs like D&D and WW's Storyteller think there should be a previously defined chandelier there.

Point is, Exalted makes a big deal out of giving in to players in the color department and calling that player initiative and character protagonisation. That flies only with gamers who have never sampled play where the very plot is in your grasp as the player and you decide the theme.

I do however allow that Exalted is very scitchophrenic in character. It gives a strong impression of player control in fiction (which ostensibly could be about your character) and examples. This however never extends to play advice or mechanics, which both go along happily building their own split between the ST for which "if the rules don't work, ignore them" and the players who by the book don't have anything else, no other meaningful decisions to do than those affecting character effectiveness. It's the classic character fidelity problem: sure, you can shoot yourself on the foot by playing a meaningful and realistic crippled half-blind sailor true to the form, but then you spend the play time doing nothing at all because the rules and play convention give feedback only for certain behavior. You'll probably feel like a saint doing it, though, and can sneer at those other players who want to at least fiddle with the character sheet.

An interesting off-shoot of this is a typical finnish way of playing WW games: the ST takes care of all the mechanics, taking even the character sheets away. As I understand this has two motivations, one public, one hidden; the public one is that it helps the players to immerse in character when they don't have to worry about mechanics. The private one, I imagine, follows from the above: by taking the character sheet away you efficiently cripple the gamist aspect of the game and force players to pure character simulationism.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #27 on: December 12, 2003, 06:37:31 AM »

Wow.

Eero, you're saying all sorts of things I often write but then delete, figuring they're too harsh.

Which I suppose is a semi-cowardly way of saying, I agree with you profoundly.

Let's get this thread oriented just a little more back toward John's game. I know I was the one who brought in the system issues, and I do think those are important to keep in mind, but it's time to bring it back 'round.

John, the most relevant bit (I think) is what Eero said at the end of his post:

Quote
the ST takes care of all the mechanics, taking even the character sheets away. As I understand this has two motivations, one public, one hidden; the public one is that it helps the players to immerse in character when they don't have to worry about mechanics. The private one, I imagine, follows from the above: by taking the character sheet away you efficiently cripple the gamist aspect of the game and force players to pure character simulationism.


One thing I've often observed are groups in which the players and GMs achieve this same state through an unstated, willful "I don't get it" statement on the players' parts, which the GM encourages. If the players abnegate their participation in System, the game essentially becomes all the GM's. And by "pure Simulationism" I'll go even farther and say "Color only," which is to say ... well, the players kind of go on nipple-sucking mode. And the GM often finds, unless he or she is an astounding control freak, that play becomes exhausting.

Does that seem relevant to your play situation at all? With the usual proviso that I may be very wrong.

Best,
Ron
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John Burdick
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Posts: 105


« Reply #28 on: December 12, 2003, 07:05:19 AM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards

One thing I've often observed are groups in which the players and GMs achieve this same state through an unstated, willful "I don't get it" statement on the players' parts, which the GM encourages. If the players abnegate their participation in System, the game essentially becomes all the GM's. And by "pure Simulationism" I'll go even farther and say "Color only," which is to say ... well, the players kind of go on nipple-sucking mode. And the GM often finds, unless he or she is an astounding control freak, that play becomes exhausting.


Yes, I'm afraid that players conditioned by years of "color only" play are leaving me with the danger of "nipple sucking". I can't play that.  If not for that fear, Eero's advice to push the books and Thor's advice on starting from scratch would have been sufficient.

A thought crossed my mind about system, I am the only one that criticizes in a specific manner the various rule sets Ranger One comes up with. He usually tries my changes in rules or style with good results.

John
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Thor Olavsrud
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« Reply #29 on: December 12, 2003, 10:33:19 AM »

Quote from: Eero Tuovinen

Thor: your argument drives for Ron's statement, not against. You say that the players have and should have great leeway with stunts and "cool ideas". That is so in the books. However, this doesn't translate to player initiative, but only to player control of color. Stunts are not clearly meant for affecting meaningful decisions, only for micro-level description. You cannot kill the bad guy with a stunt, or do anything else important. You can decide that there is a chandelier conveniently for you to grab and swing on, but this is power most games give you anyway. Only the most anally simulationist designs like D&D and WW's Storyteller think there should be a previously defined chandelier there.

Point is, Exalted makes a big deal out of giving in to players in the color department and calling that player initiative and character protagonisation. That flies only with gamers who have never sampled play where the very plot is in your grasp as the player and you decide the theme.


Hi Eero,

I don't disagree. As I pointed out, Stunts really function on the tactical level. To me, it seems the authors expect that the players will have a great deal of power beyond that, really directing where the game will go. But there's no real rule support for this.

On the other hand, the sheer power of PCs does tend to put them in the driver's seat. The non-combat charms -- especially the Presence, Socialize and Investigation charms -- are very effective, and make it very difficult to simply ram characters through pre-configured plots.

For example, here are some things my players have done:
    Used the Eclipse caste anima banner to force a defeated enemy to swear allegiance for 29 years and 3 days. This enemy, a Dragonblooded general, still hates them but has been compelled to become a traitor to the Empire through their actions.

    Turned a bunch of mooks, who had sought to sacrifice them to a rampaging elemental lord, into fanatically devoted worshippers.

    Conquered an underground city filled with cannibals (now worshippers) and turned it into a stronghold.

    Pretty much leveled another city to prevent a banished god from using its mytical properties to return to Creation.[/list:u]

    With the right combination of charms, there is no lie they cannot detect, no  mystery they cannot solve, and no bureacracy they cannot control. They can raise armies with a speech and break into the most tightly guarded fortress.

    I think it would be very difficult for a GM to co-opt the players' decision-making process when they have these tools at their disposal. In my experience, GMs who try to do this enforce their plots by limiting player choices to the paths that they envision. But an Exalted character should be able to get around all but the heaviest-handed tactics.

    Now, obviously, that can be seen in a pretty strongly gamist light. A player with gamist tendencies has a lot of stuff to keep him happy with Exalted. Everyone I've played it with has tended to be more simulationist though, choosing charms that better reflect their concepts, rather than those that are most effective.
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