For many years now I’ve made a habit of taking a break from my regular weekly games to run something completely different during the University holidays. This began because even though I was not a student some or many of my players were, and they weren’t around to play during term breaks.
Even though most of my current players are also alumni and could keep on playing, I have maintained the habit. Running a different game for a while is a bit like eating a sorbet between courses; it cleanses my mental palate and satisfies my urge for novelty, allowing me to return to my regular games with gusto once they resume after the break.
This Easter I have decided to run a short Solar Exalted game comprised of four sessions that, I hope, will carry a single story.
I’m no stranger to Exalted. In fact I ran it continously from its publication in 2001 to the end of my last chronicle in 2010, and I’ve been playing regularly in a chronicle since then. I became a bit burned out on Exalted and I have no interest in running a long-term game of it right now. However White Wolf have recently been making a concerted effort to iron out the plethora of kinks that were introduced as a result of “supplement creep” and return the game to its roots as a heroic action fantasy game where the emphasis in combat is on fun rather than optimal character builds.
They have done this by releasing comprehensive “errata” which could be described more accurately as a version revision to Exalted 2.5.
I want to persuade the GM of my regular game to adopt the “errata” in totality, giving us a single set of rules once more rather than a mess of some corrected rules and some left as per the main rulebook. I thought the best way to do this would be to run a short game using all of them so that he could see how Exalted 2.5 compares with Exalted 2.
My Exalted games are, it turns out, fairly popular. I went from musing about what game to run over the Easter break to having eight confirmed players for a Solars game in just a few hours. I had to come up with a general idea for the game at the same time so that my players would know what type of characters to create. The premise I pitched was that the game would be set in the North (an area of Creation I haven’t used heavily since my first chronicle in 2001). Each of the characters would be drawn from their homes into the icy wilderness by vivid dreams sent by the Unconquered Sun.
There’s more to it than that of course, but I can’t go into too much detail without spoiling the game for any of my players who happen to be reading.
The First Session
Because I have so many players I didn’t want to simply throw them all together as if they’d known each other for a while and expect them to roleplay. In my experience players don’t cope well with a cold start like that; they need a while to warm up and inhabit their character before they’re able to deal with large social scenes.
With this in mind I began with one player at a time, establishing how they were travelling and a bit about their motives and intentions. As they are all converging on the same destination from roughly the same origin (e.g. travelling from inhabited lands to the south into the frozen northern wastes) I had each player randomly bump into one of the other players.
This went quite well in most cases, with a good bit of humour and roleplaying as each person got into character. The most memorable encounter for me was between the character with a horse but no idea of how to look after him, and the character whose mount was a large, metallic, rock and flesh-eating centipede thing called a Cthrita. I’d been a little uncertain about letting him have that thing as a mount during character creation but I decided that I had no compelling reason not to in the end. During this encounter that decision really paid off. The interaction between the two characters and the out of character reactions of the other players when they realised what the mount was were highly enjoyable.
The least successful encounter was between the Yeddim-riding warrior nomad and the Night-caste youth who met him. She was determined that her introduction would be to the whole group at a time of her choosing and instead of showing herself to the Yeddim rider she chose to remain invisibly perched on his howdah. This was fine narratively but it meant that the nomad’s player didn’t get to do much when I went to him as I cut between the pairs of Exalts to keep everyone active.
After forming pairs in this way I slowly aggregated the pairs into a large group by use of a convenient supernatural ice storm and cavern in which to shelter from the storm. We had quite a lot of fun as the pairs arrived and discovered their commonality of purpose with the others, and the exotic mounts chosen by some of the players provided some entertaining mental images.
The Night caste finally revealed herself and the whole group got to talk and banter a bit as the storm played out beyond the safety of the cavern.
When they journeyed forth the next morning it was not as an official group, but their common destination meant that they ended up travelling together for all practical purposes.
I rounded off the session with an obstacle and some combat. Initially I had planned for the obstacle to be a mile-wide chasm of apparently bottomless depth which would have to be crossed in some kind of imaginitive way. When we actually got there I had a better understanding of the group and each character’s capabilities and I realised that this would be a very difficult obstacle to surmount. To keep things flowing (we were running out of time) I put a large wind-blown rope bridge over the chasm instead.
On attempting to cross the chasm I launched the combat; a large number of relatively weak demon-bat things that emerged from the black depths of the crevasse to attack the players. This was designed to be a relatively quick and straightforward fight so I used relatively weak stats for each bat and put them in groups of six. I then used Exalted’s Mass Combat system (in a very simplified form) to increase the power level of each group to represent that there was more than one bat in each.
This brief combat was enough to give players a slight feel for the effect of the Exalted 2.5 rules in combat, specifically the effect of allowing combos of charms to be used freely without needing to pre-buy them. To me it seemed that players had more control over their tactical options and felt a lot less limited. For example they could use powerful attack charms like Peony Blossom Attack without having to worry about leaving themselves undefended. This had the effect of making the fight more dynamic in my opinion, though of course it’s early days yet.
The fight slightly outlasted its welcome because one player was more keen on making his character appear weak during the fight so that others would underestimate him than on finishing his attackers. We got right to the end of the session and he was still mopping up the last bat, causing a small amount of frustration for the players who wanted to pack up ready to go.
So that was the end of the first session. The players had not yet finished crossing the bridge, giving me a useful place from which to pick things up next time.
The players’ reactions on leaving seemed generally positive, so I believe the game is going well so far. Hopefully next week we’ll really be able to get our teeth into the plot and I’ll have more to report on the experience of playing with all of the Exalted 2.5 errata.
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