I have this game of Exalted I’d like to tell you about. In fact, I’d like to keep a regular log about their heroism and antics. A gaming log. A GLOG! But I’m not going to tell you the story from the perspective of the characters; I’m going to tell you this story from my point of view, the Storyteller’s point of view. I’m experimenting a little bit with this game and I’d like you to hear about these experiments and how they turned out.
Our story is called As the Sun Rises, and we’re currently following the PCs’ travels from the East-most part of Bao Valley towards the Magnificent City of Bao, which is in the Western-most part, close to the sea. During our session zero, we discussed character concepts and ideas we had for the story. I wanted to build the story around the characters, and not have them make characters that fit into a predefined story. I did ask them to make their characters start with little, like only one Artifact and no Manse or Hearthstones, because I want to have this game take them from little to greatness.
We ended up with four characters. We started with five players, but one of them backed out before we got started:
- Mango, formerly of high class from the Magnificent City of Bao. His family is renowned for their medical skills, but they secretly use them for torture and inhumane experiments. Mango helped one of their victims to escape, and is now the Circle’s resident medical man. Twilight Caste.
- Bronze Lion was a military man in a commanding position for House Mnemon. He defied orders of abandoning a garrisoned dam and fought the horde of barbarians. Despite his exaltation, his remaining troops still follow him. Dawn Caste.
- Wolf is a character who is still in a bit of development. His player wanted a brawling pirate kind of guy, but has altered the concept to fit a more of a stealthy assassin. I’m fine with the change this early in the story, but I’m not sure how much of his backstory has changed with him, so I won’t be sharing it at the moment. Night Caste.
- Timoteus (Tim) is the resident gunslinger and socialite. A sort of a merchant, if memory serves, but the player missed our last session and I haven’t been able to discuss his character much. At the moment, I’ve assumed he plays the merchant with contacts, and flamethrowing pistols. Eclipse Caste.
So that’s our group. I’ve allowed the players to have a big influence on the setting and the story, as is evident in our first session.
Session 1: The Story Begins!
We started in the middle of the action: The tomb was about to come crashing down on the PCs, who were holding the priceless book of orichalcum, and the guardians of stone and metal had just been activated. It took the players a bit by surprise, but they handled it nicely. We got to try out the new combat mechanics of 3rd edition and roll some dice to avoid the falling debris.
Once the guardians had been taken care of, the Solars made their escape through a hallway filled with skeletons. The players were allowed to make a roll to examine the bones, even though everything was collapsing, because they had examined them before entering the tomb. In effect, I allowed them to make retroactive rolls for action their characters had already made, revealing information they had already gathered.
Once they had escaped the tomb, I revealed that this tomb was hidden inside a camp belonging to some bandits, who had never managed to enter it. The PCs had been asked to deal with these bandits, but they had not been at the camp when the PCs arrived. So they waited with Bronze Lion’s troops. When the bandits returned, they ambushed them and slaughtered them.
Examining the tomb’s entrance, the PCs figured that it must have belonged to Mango’s former incarnations, built for his mate back in the day, so the book of orichalcum must have belonged to him at one point too.
The heroes returned with the bandits’ loot to return it to the people of Huang, a small town where the main road left the Bao Valley to the North. There, they took time to examine the book further, and found out that it spoke of something called Pillar of Creation, a construction of immeasurable power that is supposedly located on Bao Island, the heart of the Magnificent City of Bao. Their quest is to attain it.
This session worked out pretty well. We got to try out the new combat mechanics, which is working pretty well and so much better than last edition’s mechanics. We also tried the mechanics for battle groups, which is essentially a mechanic to use when fighting against multiple opponents of similar skill and abilities. I have to say that it works out pretty well. It can get a bit confusing at times when you have to remember that you roll differently for withering damage and decisive damage, but it makes the fight feel more cinematic.
To explain a bit, you hurt your opponent with your current initiative. Withering attacks build up your initiative while reducing the initiative of your opponent. Withering damage is rolled using your Strength and your weapon’s modifier, and countered by the target’s soak (armor). This represents you knocking the opponent off balance while building your own momentum for a deadly attack. When you’re ready, you can make a decisive attack. If successful, you roll your current initiative and ignore the target’s soak. Successes on this roll is the damage suffered. This represents the lethal attack, the knockout punch, the final thrust under the opponent’s armor.
Battle groups work differently in that they do no make decisive attacks and they do not suffer withering damage. Instead, damage from their withering attacks are treated as decisive damage, and they treat withering damage against them as decisive as well. Essentially, building your initiative for a decisive attack only really helps against single opponents.
This is the gist of it, and of course, the mechanics offer a lot more you can do while in combat. Movement has been altered, attacks with range weapons is different, and more. But it’s all good changes so far, and I’m looking forward for more.
Session 2: Five Rat P**p Disease
For the second session, I wanted to try something different entirely. I didn’t want the Solar Heroes to fight a powerful enemy in a deadly fight of flashing swords and destructive environment. We could do that on any day. I wanted them to fight a disease. I wanted them to feel the drama of people dying because their own bodies failed them, not because of bandits or monsters. I wanted them to feel sorry for the poor souls in the town of Lian-Xu, where they would seek the assistance of a blacksmith on their way to the Magnificent City of Bao.
That didn’t go as well as I had planned. Possibly it was the poor preparation on my part, or maybe it just wasn’t what the players wanted, but the drama of losing new friends as they searched for a cure was avoided.
We did get to explore the disease rules a little bit, and some of the PCs did get infected, but the disease never advanced beyond the initial infection. They did find the cause of the disease, a ratlike beastman hiding in the sewers, sent by his goddess, Serpent in Silver, to spread the disease among the citizens of the town (and possibly the valley). The heroes captured him, interrogated him, tortured him for more information when their interrogation technique started to fail them, and then executed him. It was a morally questionable situation, especially for Mango, who doesn’t like killing people, even barbarians.
I also got to see how the rules for battle groups could apply to rats. Unfortunately, there are no stats for rats in the core book, at least not this version, so I made some up. Over hundred rats attacked them in the sewers, and Bronze Lion burned them all to ashes (after Mango and Wolf thinned the herd a bit).
After the fight, it was getting late, but they still hadn’t found a cure for the disease. So we made up some mechanic on the spot, to resolve it quickly. Mango’s player would make a medical roll. A single success would mean a cure was found, but more successes would mean he would find it sooner (starting at 14 days, each success meant one day less). Time was also of the essence, because people were still dying. Each day, 1d10 people would die, out of 100 remaining citizens. During the four days it took to cure the town, 14 people died. But a cure was found, so Mango got to name the disease, Five Rat P**p Disease, named after what they called the rat-person who infected the town.
It was a very crude way to conclude this. I would have liked a more time consuming method, that we could have spent our next session dealing with. But not all the players seemed at all excited about curing diseases, and spending another session doing it may not be such a good idea.
Honestly, I’m also relieved that I included the ratman for them to fight. At first, I didn’t plan to include him, which would have made this session a lot more mundane and a lot less exciting. But, although I am likely to include more investigation in my game in the future, I think my players will enjoy it more if they know they get to beat up someone at the end of it.
The players are all guys I’ve played little with or not at all. They are all seasoned players though, I’ve just never had the pleasure of being in many games with them. It was a bit scary, especially since I got the feeling I had to fulfill a certain standard as the Storyteller, but everything has worked out fine so far. I’ve told the players that I’ll be doing some experiments with this game, and they’ve given excellent feedback when I’ve asked for it.
We did include some house-rules. First of all, the experience cost has been altered. Attributes cost 10 XP per dot, Abilities cost 5 XP per dot and 4 XP per dot if favored/caste, and Merits would cost 9 XP per dot, according to the formula we’re using. Merits might get changed, it feels very expensive, but it hasn’t come up in discussion yet.
Another thing that I’m experimenting more with is allowing the players to name things. Half the characters grew up in the Magnificent City of Bao (and yes, if you’re wondering, the whole thing is the city’s name) so the characters should know the names of a lot of the places. At one point, we introduced one of Bronze Lion’s officers, because Mango wanted to learn how to read. I asked Bronze Lion’s player for the officer’s name, because he would have to know the name of his own officer. I settled for An’Tonyo, an crude modification of the name Antonio, which sounded a bit Roman.
Not every group is as open to provide you with names for NPCs or locations, or even much else, so this doesn’t always work. I had another group start with amnesia, and allowed them to advance their characters mid-game with the awarded XP, but only if they could provide me with a flashback of a memory from when they were actually using the ability. Eventually, I stopped requesting for flashbacks because the players just couldn’t think of them on a regular basis. And that’s just fine, it was an experiment that didn’t work out like I hoped but it might work much better with other players. That’s something you may want to keep in mind, that some ideas may not work with your group but might work with another group of players, so share your ideas in case someone else might find it useful.
Finally, here are some names the characters came across, for reference later:
- Pillar of Creation is a supposedly a marvel of engineering. The Circle knows it is located on Bao Island, and suspect it is inside the Grand Ziggurat, which the heart of the city.
- Serpent in Silver is the “goddess” who orchestrated the infection in Lian-Xu. In fact, according to the characters’ sources, she created the disease and gave her servant the ability to command rats.
- Wengol the Beast is the lord of the Wengol tribes, barbaric tribes who live to the East of Bao Valley. He is said to be working with Serpent in Silver, and plans to attack the Magnificent City of Bao. Bronze Lion fought one of the Wengol tribes before.
- Mnemon Kai, a commander who studied with Bronze Lion at the academy. She was a flunky but has respected parents.
- Mnemon Syran is Kai’s father and a military general. Although he commands respect for his success, he has never actually seen battle. He was the one who gave Bronze Lion the order to abandon the dam and destroy it, rather than let it be captured.