Since I wrote part two of this series I have run the final two sessions of the game. The overall feedback from my players was positive, though I think the game suffered to an extent from the large group size. I ended things in a very open way – a cliffhanger almost – and intimated that I may be willing to run a sequel in the next vacation.
So the group finally got to the shining rainbow manse of my plot giver (for want of a better term), who told them that he had been uplifted by the Unconquered Sun and given the task of welcoming them as a proper Circle of exalts. He went on to tell them that he had been given a task to pass on to them by the Sun.
The group were immediately a bit on the suspicious side, though primarily this was due to the fact that they were put out at the idea that their god would deign to speak to this mortal when he had not spoken to most of them.
Anyway, the task was quite straightforward. A short distance away was a human village that had been attacked by marauding polar bear beast-men. The humans were imprisoned and ready for the slaughter, the bears planning to devour their corpses. Could the circle free them from this terrible fate?
After some discussion the group agreed to go and at least investigate this. On arrival they found that there was indeed a village with a palisade fence and an internal stockade in which a couple of hundred dirty humans were being kept prisoner (or was it a few dozen? Apparently my notes were insufficiently detailed on this and the situation got a mite muddied between sessions three and four).
The village itself was indeed populated with polar-bear beast men. After a bit of investigation the group came up with a plan. The Night caste would sneak in and free the humans using a hole gnawed into the palisade by the Cthrita mount of one of the group. Meanwhile the others would approach the main gate of the village and issue an ultimatum, requiring that they hand over their prisoners.
Narratively I was really pleased with how well this scene went. Almost everyone was involved and the interactions between the circle, the bear-men and the prisoners were highly entertaining.
The plan went without a hitch and the Night caste tied up the guard on the stockade and successfully freed the humans, sending them off to the merchant member of the circle to arm themselves before returning to gain vengeance on the polar-bear men. At the same time the more martial members of the circle intimidated the leader of the bear-men into handing over the prisoners.
The leader had 10 men with him and sent five of these to fetch the prisoners, leaving him with five warriors. After some quiet discussion in a language not spoken by the bear-leader, the circle decided to attack and destroy the bears.
The session ended with combat, then, this time against multiple enemies of a slightly tougher disposition than the bats from earlier.
The very first blow of the session was struck using the Solar Hero Style, in particular a charm called Hammer Fist Punch. Using it to punch the bear leader into the wooden palisade wall, the player inflicted 128 dice (or thereabouts) of bashing damage upon the bear-man. This turned him into a fine red mist and completely destroyed the main gates of the village.
Another bear man was cleaved in twain by a grand grimcleaver in a single blow.
Meanwhile the Night caste discovered that the (newly freed) humans were bandits who had come to try and steal the village from the bear-men and were in fact justly imprisoned. Hearing the slaughter at the village’s gate she ran back to stop the massacre, leaving the humans to their own devices.
The last action of the session was a player attacking another of the bears, only to be blocked by the heroic defence of the returning Night caste.
We picked up with the combat next session, having saved the exact combat state with my Conflict Manager (a Java program I wrote for the purpose of managing conflicts – social and physical). I should have made a few notes as well though, or rather made more detailed notes on the actions I listed in my manager, because I was a little hazy on what exactly had happened at the end of the previous session.
Faced with the terrifying Solar exalts the remaining bear-men surrendered and put down their weapons. The circle found it difficult to justify attacking considering this and so the combat fizzled out somewhat.
Meanwhile drama did build on the far side of the camp as the bandits thought they might stand a chance at robbing the merchant of ALL his goods, not just the weapons. He managed to make them believe he could defend himself, however, and not knowing the situation continued to arm them as planned so they could “take back” the village.
When the rest of the circle realised this their greatest general went to confront the marauding bandits and used his War charms to first rout them and then to rally them to his banner, their leader having been blinded in his remaining eye by one of the other warriors in the circle.
Having realised that they were duped by the old man the group considered how to proceed. They spoke with the bear-men’s shaman and found out about a god they worshipped called the White Walker, but most of them considered this likely to be a Lunar exalt. The first plan they considered was stealing the village from the bear-men and making it theirs, with the bears as their servants.
Before doing this however they decided to get revenge on the mysterious old man who had misguided them while claiming to speak for the Unconquered Sun. With three bears and the remaining bandits they returned to the manse and entered to get some answers.
After a brief interrogation they realised that the man was clearly deluded and genuinely believed what he had told them. They deduced that another god must have been claiming to be the unconquered sun to mislead him – but why?
To get the god’s attention they decided to damage the manse, which they presumed was a valuable asset for him. This involved having one of their warriors smite a vulnerable spot in the hearth room with his grand grimcleaver.
The result of this was a little more effective than anticipated, due to the multiplying effects of the geomantic survey and the fact that the weak spot chosen was in the hearth room – this added a multiplier of six to a multiplier of five to the damage, meaning that the strike inflicted something like 136 damage to the manse.
This instantly reduced its rating to 0 and destroyed the manse, causing a dangerous essence vent to flare in the hearth room. The group fled even as the axe-wielding warrior suffered rainbow-hued burns to his face and body (inflicting 15dice of bashing damage).
This scene was a lot of fun too, and a clear example of how sometimes being too good at something can be a bit of a problem…
The old man, cut off from the life-sustaining energies of the manse, collapsed and died. On investigating his corpse the group found the sigil of a god named Rastus, god of Light and Illusion tattooed on his chest (bit of an obvious clue I know, but this was getting near the end of the session)!
The group decided to pray to Rastus to call him to account, sacrificing the bandits (by flinging them into the moat around the manse, which was filled with jagged crystals) to do so. Meanwhile random bursts of essence vented around the manse, killing one or two of the bandits (and leaving behind valuable rainbow-stained bones which were collected by the merchant for sale).
Rastus answered in the form of a glowing illusion in the sky, where he told them that they had fallen entirely into his trap by demonstrating that the Solars are too dangerous to leave alive. He said they had hastened their own end by giving him the evidence he needed to arrange for the Aerial Legion to be sent against them.
Despite further sacrifices he refused to be drawn any further and, being in Heaven, there was little the group could do to stop him. Or was there?
The Zenith felt himself touched by the Unconquered Sun, energy flowing through him and crackling into the air as the Calibration Gate took form before them, opening the way to Yu-Shan.
And I ended the game with them stepping through the gate to take up their issue with Rastus personally.
So there we go. In general I felt that this four-part game was quite satisfying. Nothing I threw against the players was much of a challenge in combat, but more importantly fighting them was a lot of fun.
With the new combo rules and the errata’d charms, I think that only very powerful creatures and Charm users are likely to pose any kind of challenge to Exalted. Running Exalted-level combat however would have taken entire sessions and I didn’t really have the time to do that for this game, especially not in numbers enough for the whole group to be involved in the conflict.
On the whole I feel that the changes to the combat system and the charms in the Errata have improved Exalted quite a bit, allowing players to use more of their charms without leaving themselves undefended and therefore actually letting them enjoy the magic they’ve bought. Social Combat is also made more significant, with attacks being much more expensive to resist.
Exalted 2.5 has more of an epic feel that might make it more difficult to run the game in the long run, but I am impressed so far.