Players: Alex B, Conrad, Janae, Mariah, Taylor
I’ve decided to start providing postmortem posts analyzing our game sessions as they occur and providing my thoughts and feedback. It’s my belief that this will help me improve my abilities as a storyteller and provide a motivation for players to think about their performance in a game and consider how to improve it.
I want to open with this thought: The “win” condition for role-playing games is for everyone to be having fun. Any other scoring metric would be completely inapplicable to the open-ended, mutual world-building exercise that is role-playing.
Last night’s game was the first one for the Abyssal/Infernal circle in the North campaign. For Alex, Taylor and Mariah it was their first session playing Exalted.
The Circle’s composition is:
Schezeric Deschilan: a Fiend caste Infernal. Schezeric prefers bargaining over combat, has no pretenses of bravery or valor, and develops a nervous twitch quickly when allies begin to aggressively posture. He’s a smooth talker who’s quick to compliment and eager to suggest mutually agreeable bargains. Played by Alex B.
The Raven That Feasts on the Final Battle: a Dusk caste Abyssal. Raven is frequently silent, relying on tilting his plague-mask and gestures to communicate most concepts until the situation absolutely demands him to speak. Although an incredibly dangerous warrior and contemptuous of unskilled foes, he appears to reserve deadly force for foes that are worth the effort, and is willing to delay sending an enemy to Oblivion or Lethe if another productive alternative has presented itself. Played by Conrad.
Tepet Tanis: a Slayer caste Infernal. Tanis is a monstrous berserker in a small package. Her short stature is compensated for by constant aggressive posturing, with her constantly testing her superiors, allies and foes with challenges and threats. It appears that if an opportunity for a fight is in the offering, Tanis is more than willing to start it. Bearing over-sized smashfists, her use of Infernal Monster Style has proven to make her an incredibly lethal foe to opponents much larger than her. Although her high Valor makes her unlikely to pursue and cut down fleeing foes, on the field of battle she has shown none of Raven’s mercy when dealing with those who stand and fight. Played by Janae.
Nameless Shadow of the Forest: a Day caste Abyssal. An independent Abyssal, Shadow is mistrusting of the Deathlords and appears to be reluctant to trust the motivations of loyal Abyssals. Despite this, when a potential fight appeared to be about to occur between the deakthknights and the green sun princes it was clear that she would back her own kind over the Infernals. Quiet and stealthy, she’s so far been willing to let her Circle-mates do the talking; in combat, she takes the same approach, silently and methodically dealing with her foes. Played by Mariah.
The Blood-Stained Ballad of Death’s Beckoning Embrace: a Midnight caste Abyssal. Bearing a shamisen and a slightly crooked grin, Ballad could be easily mistaken as insane by the careless. Which is a mistake he’s more than happy to let you make. In battle, Ballad first turns to his shamisen to harm foes, using Performance Charms to shatter minds and kill with dark songs which speak of the glory of death. When greater foes prove resistant to his dark ballads, his eyes fill with blackness and shoot dark jagged bolts of Essence that are far more dangerous than any song. Played by Taylor.
In their opening session the players found themselves assigned to an assault on a Seventh Legion expedition in the northern plains, aimed at stopping an excavation for a powerful First Age weapon. The two Infernals met with one of their superiors, a Defiler named Jubari Keymaker, who airlifted them to their target by airship. The Abyssals were taken through the Underworld by a necromancy-powered ship under the command of Lone Osprey Over Dark Waters. Both groups were informed that “another team” would be involved in the mission, but not given details as to who that would be.
The parties attacked from two directions. The Infernals air-dropped from above while the Abyssals crawled into Creation through a door spawned by necromancy, starting their attack from the bottom of the excavation pit.
The opposition was roughly a talon of Lookshy troops commanded by shozei Amilar Varas, a Dragon-blooded officer in his middle-age armed with a red jade grand daiklave. In addition to Varas, three other Dragon-blooded were in the encampment: quick-grinning Karal “Blaze” Tanaka, armed with a pair of flame-pieces and his roguish charm; the gravely serious Melehek Verik, a master swordsman who wielded a jade reaper daiklave and jade wavecleaver daiklave with deadly competency; and Hirea Red Antlers, a fur-clad barbarian woman who kept her distance while attacking with her jade powerbow.
The Abyssals struck first, with Ballad singing a deadly song that nearly killed the entire talon of mortal troops in one verse. Varas leapt into combat and in deadly retribution nearly cut the bard in two with a single stroke from his grand daiklave. The other Terrestrials quickly followed suit into the attack, with Blaze nearly scoring a hit on the quick-moving Raven before being pushed back by Shadow’s furious counterattacks. Soaring over Blaze with a massive leap, Verik pressed Raven with an all-out assault from his two daiklaves, pushing the deathknight to heavily spend essence to keep from taking too deep a wound. Red Antlers peppered the battlefield with shots from above the pit, trying to push Shadow back from Blaze but failing to land any hits on the quick-moving Day caste.
At this point the Infernals dropped into the fight. Tanis cut her parachute early and collided into the earth just behind Verik with a heavy thud. Although the swordsman almost turned her shattering punch aside with his skill, she still landed a blow that burned with the fires of Malfeas and the deadly liquid of her acid-rime smashfists. Shezeric obliterated a soldier’s head with a well-aimed shot from his deadly needle artifact before landing quietly behind Red Antlers, who he stealthily approached in the shadows.
At this point the fight heated up. Sensing Verik’s relative deadliness, Raven and Tanis dug heavily into their essence pools to launch massive attacks on the swordsman, with the Infernal succeeding in crushing his skull just after Raven landed a fury of blows. Pressed back by Shadow’s advance and unable to score a hit with his flamepieces, Blaze suggested the better course of valor to his superior, Varas.
The Dragon-blooded officer called for his surviving allies to flee in response, then pressed an attack against Tanis to tie up the raiders long enough for his troops to escape. Although his attacks were backed by the power of the Dragons, Tanis was able to turn them aside before gravely wounding Varas in response. Sensing an opportunity for information, Raven switched tactics and landed a series of non-lethal strikes to render the shozei unconscious.
Shezeric caught a fleeing Red Antlers by surprise as she turned to flee, scoring a light blow on her before Blaze came leaping out of the pit to provide cover with his flamepieces. The Circle decided to let the fleeing Terrestrials escape (much to Shezeric’s disappointment) to concentrate on retrieving the artifact the Legion had been digging for.
Breaking into the partially-excavated ruins, they discovered a frisbee-sized disk of blue glass, filled with a glowing blue fluid. Shezeric recognized it as a sizeable piece of glass from one of the three spheres of the Principle of Hierarchy used as a final act of vengeance in the last moments of the Primordial War, and warning that it was likely an incredibly dangerous weapon that could obliterate a large portion of Creation if activated.
At this point, the Circle broke to in-fighting, with each faction demanding to take the weapon to their own masters for safekeeping. Shezeric proposed an agreement of watching over it together while they negotiated in good faith. Ballad seemed inclined to accept the bargain, but Raven was untrusting of sealing a bargain with a Fiend.
At this point a masked stranger named Unity approached the Circle. He revealed that it was him that asked Osprey and Jubari each to send their forces to help secure the item, indicating that he was a highly-ranked member of an organization called the Deliberative in Exile, an alliance of Abyssals and Infernals who felt that Creation and the Underworld would be better placed in the hands of the Exalted instead of the Yozi or the Neverborn.
Agreeing to the wisdom of such an arrangement, the Circle learned that as many as five more such discs existed throughout the North and perhaps the East and West, and that one was recently uncovered by Realm engineers building a new series of walls around the nearby city of Cherek.
Deciding to work together, they left the excavation site and headed out over the snowy plains towards one of the North’s largest cities, intent on wresting a dangerous weapon from the hands of the Realm before they could misuse it.
As an inaugural session to a new campaign, especially one with several Exalted novices, I felt things went very smoothly. As can be expected, everything took longer: final character tweaks before beginning, the introduction of the game, combat, etc. But despite the extra time involved, it progressed with no major snafus (and virtually no minor ones).
That said, I’ve got some suggestions that I think we can all benefit from, as well as some specific advice for particular characters. I’m going to start with the generic advice, then work my way to the one for individuals. I suggest reading through it all, as some may apply to you.
Players shouldn’t have to do the following during game: open a book to figure out what their Charms do, then open up the Errata to confirm that they still do that, then decide what to do on their turn now that they have read through that all.
I strongly recommend everyone make Charm cards with the errata’d version of their effects carefully written out. This way you don’t need to consult one (or more) books and PDFs, and you have a very easy, very comprehensible resource to examine for knowing what special powers you can bring to bear.
Barring errata changes, the Charms will stay the same from that point on, and you can devise consistent strategies based on that knowledge. This will help you be more confident and effective with your character’s abilities, and will help speed up combat.
I did this with my NPCs for this battle, and found that I didn’t need to open up the Dragon-blooded supplement every turn, and it greatly accelerated my characters’ actions (and made them a bit more effective in the process).
Exalted combat can be very complex. As such, the more preparation a player can do before their turn comes along, the smoother and quicker combat can be. Smooth and quick combat is more fun, and provides more opportunity for role-playing the rest of the evening.
This particular session went pretty smoothly despite the new players, but there were a few moments where a turn sequence slowed down greatly because someone had to figure out exactly how many dice to add from various effects, counting extra bits here and there from various source. I saw this happening less over time as combat progressed, with people knowing how much they were adding before their turn came, and it benefitted things a LOT.
So while being aware of what’s going on with combat, prepare ahead ideas for what you’re doing. I know that the situation can change just prior to your action, but if you get a feel for what you’re planning to do, and then start doing the math for it in advance, you’ll be able to take your turn in a more succinct, quick timetable that will keep the combat hopping and exciting.
Between points #1 and #2 I find combat gets more exciting for everyone, as they get to spend more time listening to descriptions and witnessing the effects of dice rolls than listening to idle chatter while people wait five minutes for someone to figure out what’s going down.
I want to really emphasize: The Circle did great tonight. I just noticed where things improved a ton from people being prepared. Charm cards, thinking out plans in advance, and doing the math ahead of time. Big, big factors for keeping combat lean and tight.
There were a few moments where I could see someone struggling with the ideas of stunts. Although Exalted veterans are old hands at this, for the new players there can be occasions where it looks like you feel on the spot while coming up with ideas. I suggest that the best way to avoid this issue is to think out stunts in your head as you’re waiting for your turn.
Don’t over think them, however. Stunts should be easy to recite back, and not slow down game with laborious phrasing and pacing. They should be zesty, fun, and epic. Not plodding.
You’ll find by thinking ahead and keeping them lean that you’ll feel less “put on the spot” when you recite them back, and people will really appreciate the resulting epic imagery.
Now that I’ve addressed general comments based on how game went, I’m going to offer some specific advice to players. As this was the first session of a new campaign, I want to give people a chance to shake out the bugs in their character design and improve their ability to perform the kind of actions they want their characters to excel at.
With the following suggestions we should consider moving around your points to adjust for the strategies I’m suggesting. These are ultimately just suggestions, of course. If you like how you’re doing, please ignore it.
Taylor: I love Ballad, his theme, and his strategy. But if it weren’t for me retconning some damage, he would have died in the first attack by the first NPC in the first combat. An epic, tragically short life. So the first order of business is making him more survivable. There’s some ways that could be done.
One way is to get a guardian that uses Defend Other to keep him safe. After seeing this in play in the East campaign I can say it greatly improves survivability, but it does hinge on someone else wanting to play a defender type. If someone wants to, have them do it. If not, well, then it won’t happen.
You need to boost your DV, too. As it stands, the mortal extras had comparable DVs. On average, almost any Exalted combat-oriented character can hit Ballad every time they attack him. His anti-attack aura of fear is very nice, but has some holes, notably that two successes on a Willpower check is negligible, and if I take one or two dice of damage from the feedback effect in exchange for doing six to you, it’s worth the trade-off for the attacker.
I’d suggest considering moving some points around into Dodge, or adding a Specialty for Dodge. Additionally, you’d benefit from Hearthstone Bracers (which add +3 to your Dodge + Dexterity + Essence calculation for Dodge DV). Although I don’t have a list of Hearthstones in front of me, I think you could probably mildly improve this with certain Hearthstones as well (likely not by a lot, but by 1 or 2).
Additionally, improving your soak is very practical. I know your character design doesn’t favor heavy armor, but perhaps you should consider an artifact reinforced buff jacket (over your current normal buff jacket), as well as some Resistance soak Charms.
Lastly, get a perfect defense Charm as soon as possible. They’re expensive to use, but they can really help in attacks that you need to avoid at all costs.
Mariah: You need artifacts. Your native dice pools aren’t inherently high enough for your style of combat for you to keep in the same league as everyone else. I’d personally suggest getting one of your style’s form weapons: razor claws, smashfists, or bloodspike harnesses. Any of these will improve your combat output considerably (note: the harness only works for clinch, so if you don’t plan on clinches use one of the others). At the minimum I’d suggest hearthstone bracers if you don’t want a weapon. Better yet, get both a weapon and bracers.
Conrad: In a few instances you spent so much essence on defense that you might as well have paid for a perfect defense charm. I’d suggest getting a perfect dodge at some point as a backup for situations like this. I’d also suggest the dodge charm that permits you to disregard any Dodge DV penalties, as that would greatly improve your DV in some circumstances for very cheap (by bypassing whatever negatives are stacked up). That’s only a suggestion, though. You did fine on survivability, obviously. I just figured some efficiency on mote use would be handy.
Alex B: I suggest eventually getting either an Excellency or Shadow Spite Curse to help you hit others or avoid being hit. I know that combat isn’t your biggest focus, but one of those could help in the long-run.
Janae: Look into clinching more. You’re dangerous punching or clinching, but it’s pretty clear that the Strength-enhance nature of the style makes you far more dangerous as a clincher.
On my own end, I saw some organizational issues of my own. I should print out my small NPC sheets instead of keeping them on a tablet for quicker retrieval (complete with those Charm cards). In the instances where I had that info handy, it greatly sped up how quickly I could formulate a plan. Also, as more of a note to self: remember to synergize Dragon-Blooded actions more. They work way better as a coordinating team.
I was really pleased with how the session went and how players did. Thanks a lot guys for a fun night!