Month: May 2014

Ink Monkey Bones #3: Manse of Air and Darkness

<3>Manse of Air and Darkness

<n>Cost: (Manse rating x 2)m; Mins: Occult 5, Essence 4; Type: Simple (Dramatic Action)

Keywords: Elemental, Obvious

Duration: Indefinite

Prerequisite Charms: Fivefold Resonance Sense

By altering the flow of Essence at the heart of a Terrestrial-aspected demesne over the course of one hour, the Dragon-Blood conjures up a shadow manse (Oadenol’s Codex, pp. 59-60) for which she possesses the blueprints or other design notes. While this shadow manse is constructed out of congealed air and Essence rather than bamboo and paper, it functions as a normal shadow manse in all respects, including vulnerability to attack. The character is automatically attuned to the manse.

More importantly, over the course of the next day the shadow manse’s hearthroom manifests a shadow hearthstone. This is a translucent, ghostly replica of the hearthstone the manse is designed to generate. The shadow hearthstone provides a special ability just like any other hearthstone. However, unlike a real hearthstone, the shadow hearthstone does not increase its bearer’s Essence respiration rate. Moreover, the stone is incredibly fragile and can be shattered by any successful attack. Destroying the shadow manse (or ending the Charm) also destroys the shadow hearthstone and vice versa.

If someone starts to build a real manse upon the template of the shadow manse, the shadow manse continues to function until the real version of the manse is completed. At that point, the Charm ends—but the Dragon-Blood’s attunement to the shadow manse becomes an attunement to the real manse, and the shadow hearthstone solidifies into a real, tangible hearthstone.

[BEGIN BOXED TEXT]

<4>Clarification: Shadow Manse Attunement

<n>A shadow manse’s Essence pattern is not that of the demesne from which it draws its power. Attunement to the demesne does not provide attunement to the shadow manse, nor does attunement to the shadow manse provide attunement to the demesne.

[END BOXED TEXT]

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Zhaojun Chronicle: Session #1

In the first Zhaojun playtest session, we followed Realm talonlord Coravan Calan during his reassignment to the Southwest. He was effectively in political exile for attempting to report corruption among his superiors, and had been shipped off to the edge of the world for his pains.

Calan took ship to An-Teng, thence down the coast through the more lightly populated regions around the Silent Crescent, and on to the Baihu islands. At the mouth of the Meiyu Sea, his ship stopped for resupply at the Huang Hei naval depot. Seeking meaning in the congested bustle of troops around the docks, his inquiries among the soldiers revealed only that the Imperial legion garrisoned there had been sent south.

Arriving at Goldenseal, Calan turned his baggage over to his aging valet Iridescent Quill and his squire Nabaro Ren, and made his way to the city’s Realm garrison. He reported to the garrison’s second in command, Bal Gevanin, in her well-appointed quarters. A rather easygoing woman for her rank, Gevanin explained that the Huang Hei legion had headed south to deal with increased barbarian incursions from the Rao tribes, but that Calan would remain in Goldenseal to help see to its defense. He was deeply disappointed to learn that he would be assigned to lead auxiliary troops—a mix of provincials and mercenaries—rather than Realm soldiers

At his new quarters in the garrison, Calan learned from a querulous Quill that Ren had gone missing—something which he had done often on the journey down, though on board ship it was of little consequence as the boy couldn’t go far. Now, though, Calan and Quill headed out into the plaza outside the garrison gates to track Ren down.

They watched Ren as he talked to merchants and peered into shops, looking for someone or something. Night had fallen when a conversation with a peddler incited the boy to bolt down a side street. Quill, an older man, lacked the stamina to pursue, so Calan followed alone. After further queries of passers-by, Ren tracked his quarry to a narrow triangular courtyard. The young woman he met there, slurping noodles from a cart, was familiar to Calan. Indeed, it was a relative of his: Coradan Teva, his brother’s daughter, who had run away from home—and her arranged marriage to a boy she loathed—to follow the uncle she idolized.

Calan spent several minutes firing angry words at the pair—at Teva for abdicating her responsibilities, and at Ren for enabling the girl’s behavior and failing to report it to his mentor. Only after the hairs began to prickle on the back of his neck did Calan realize that all around them, passers-by had withdrawn down alleyways and residents had closed their doors and windows. The noodle-seller slammed his shutters closed as a dozen thuggish fellows closed in on the three Realmfolk.

The gang and its leader, Silver Shao, confronted the three with a jovial demeanor that provided a flimsy veil for insults and threats. When their japes veered toward the toothsomeness and potential price of the two youths, Calan threatened Shao with brutal, bloody death if he didn’t call off his men. We pulled the social influence system out of the box for this one, and Calan’s dead-eyed glare was very convincing. Only the gang leader’s Intimacy toward maintaining face in front of his gang allowed him to shrug it off.

The ensuing fight scene, with Calan trying to take out his opponents quickly so he could catch up to the thugs pursuing Ren and Teva, went a lot slower than expected. We’d all playtested the system before, but that was months ago; none of us remembered the rules as well as we’d thought, so we had to keep riffling through the playtest packets to remember how things worked. In addition, Calan’s player hadn’t pre-calculated and written down his combat scores on his sheet, so he kept adding up the numbers every single time he made a roll or was attacked. We’re making sure to prep all those numbers in advance for next session, so things will go much faster. (Holden has assured me that the final character sheet will include spaces to record commonly used pools and values, including—but not limited to—such combat scores.)

I had Calan Exalt halfway through the combat. Before Exalting, he was doing well against a small gang of crummy thugs and a boss whose combat skills were nearly a match for his own, but they successfully prevented him from getting away to help the kids, and it looked like he would eventually get ground down if he couldn’t scatter the battle group. However, once Calan started burning Essence on Charms, he swiftly gained the upper hand, carving a nasty gash across Silver Shao’s face and sending the gang packing.

Once Calan was free to chase after his family, taking down the remaining thugs was trivial. Persuading Ren not to turn him in as Anathema was harder, but with some effort Calan convinced the boy to keep his secret and return quietly to the garrison… once Calan’s anima faded, at any rate. Seeing onlookers gathering at the far end of the alley, Calan pulled his cloak lower over his forehead and sought cover in an abandoned building until he could pass as a mortal.

We should have used the social influence rules to determine whether Calan could convince Ren and Teva to come with him, but it was really late and we were dead tired, and frankly I was so zoned out at that point that I forgot that the social rules were an option—our group is used to handling social stuff through pure roleplay. We’ll give the social mechanics more of a workout next time!

Marst Chronicle: Session #2

In the first session of the Marst playtest chronicle for Exalted Third Edition, we’ve met the PCs and seen them fight. Now it’s time for the playtest report on the group’s second session:

The caravan pulls up to the village of Elder Pine. It is a small town built around an absurdly large pine tree. The tree itself climbs easily 1/4 mile into the sky and can be seen for quite a ways further then that. Elder Pine marks the beginning of the more wooded part of the journey. Word is passed around by the guards that the caravan will be stopped here for three days.

Karis, wishing to know more about the lay of the land, asks the other guards what they know of the place. A little haggling and some minor pilfered goods later, this is what she finds out: The citizens of Elder Pine revere the tree as sacred and simply refer to it as the Eldest. Rumor has it—and the guards don’t necessarily believe these rumors, but they tread lightly all the same—the Eldest is actually an old and powerful god of the forest. He is said to love his citizens and his land. It has been said that Elder Pine is never hungry, never attacked, and that the women are as fertile as the fields. One especially paranoid guard also notes that he has heard the god jealously guards his people from the outside world and that Elder Pine is truly a prison, albeit a happy one.

(We liked the way the [REDACTED] piece of social influence worked. It did not take much time to resolve and I did not find it hard to adjudicate which offers were good and which were not going to cut it. I did not use much of the Larceny systems here, as she was not trying to get difficult-to-acquire goods from especially astute people, and the PC is an amazing thief. So having her roll to get some extra tobacco, a new whetstone, and ten coins was not really something I deemed worthwhile.)

The caravan master, Oberon Telev, informs everyone to be on their best behavior while in Elder Pine, because it is customary for the local priest to bless all caravans heading deeper into the forest, and the priest despises disruptions in his little town.

White Ink finds this curious, and so he approaches Telev to ask him why this blessing is so important. Telev is not especially keen on disclosing these facts, but the gruff looking older man flashes more charisma and social prowess then expected, and uses an inspiring bit of flattery to stoke Telev’s pride and get him talking about his beloved caravan. This gets Telev talking about how any caravan he has ever run on this route has never lost a guard, and how his good dealings with Elder Pine are a strong reason for that.

When pressed further on the subject by a rather persuasive argument that plays on Telev’s sense of gratitude toward those who have helped his caravan, he reveals that the blessing is an important thing for all traveling East on this road to receive. He says that the blessing of the Eldest’s priest lays a mark upon the caravan which grants it protection from all the mischievous spirits of the forest until you reach the town of Shimmering Blossom, which is more then a week’s travel away. Telev asks the older man to keep this secret between them, and leaves shaking his head a bit confused at the old warrior’s skill with words.

(We again do not have much but good things to say about the social system here. It worked pretty smoothly and efficiently to let players find out what they need and then exploit that information to their advantage. I also really enjoy how you can use one action, in this case a [REDACTED], to help feed into another action, in this case a [REDACTED]. It is probably not necessary, but we did discuss whether or not performing certain actions should give you a bonus of some kind if followed up by ones that also exploit that use. In the end we decided to bring it up [in our playtest feedback], but also note that simply awarding a higher stunt for the clever move may also work. The players have also not been trying anything overly hard and have been very cautious about choosing strong Intimacies to exploit, but they seem pleased with the effect and that it doesn’t all end with “LOL NOPE I SPEND WP.” The finishing of the small side quest coming up and the next village may push them harder socially if they choose to go that route with things. I hope it does, as I really want to see what happens to the social system when it starts to feel some stress from more powerful people being involved in it. )

The next two days pass without much fanfare, and with our heroes performing their duties or simply resting. Karis debates stealing a few things from the village but is troubled by what the other guards shared with her, and so she resists the urge for now by telling herself that the next town will be worth the patience here.

The next morning, Oberon Telev meets with the Eldest’s priest to arrange for the caravan to be blessed. Before the priest can begin, though, an ancient roar splits the air as roots twist up from the ground and twine themselves over and through the wheels of the caravan. Guards shout, Karis readies her bow, White Ink appears worried, and Oberon Telev shouts his dismay and insists on knowing what this is about. His demands are cut off by the shadow of a god.

Out from the great pine steps a being with flesh of the strongest timber, hair of the deepest green, eyes of a darkness so great that to look upon them is to be convinced it is night, and a countenance so full of wrath that all sound in the entire wood ends. About him is draped a cloak of moss and upon his head rests a bramble crown. In his massive right hand he holds a club forged from the heartwood of a tree that was born before time began, and as he walks forward, he points it at the caravan master and all those who travel with him.

“Who are you to make demands here, in my home!” The Wood King’s voice seems to carve itself into the air. “Did I not welcome you here? Did my people not feed you well and treat you with kindness?” The god does not wait for a reply. “How dare you receive my hospitality and then treat me this way. I will have all your heads for this. Your blood will become the gems that adorn my hair!”

A startled Telev then begins to praise the great king and ask him what he means, and generally attempts to sort out what is going on. Eldest then informs him that a young girl has gone missing from his village, and that because no one else in the forest would dare challenge him in such a way, it must have been this caravan’s men who took her. After much groveling and begging, the Wood King says that he will give them all one chance to prove their innocence. If the girl and the perpetrator are turned over to him in two days’ time, the caravan and its men may go on with his blessing. If they do not do this, then he will assume them guilty and none shall ever leave Elder Pine.

(Finally, we got a good test of the [REDACTED] action here, and I can conclusively say a [REDACTED] action coming from a Wood King leaves one good reason to be scared. As an ST, I appreciate how the system really lets me guide the tone of the scene I want by being diverse enough to allow me many options, and powerful enough that even stubborn players will want to think twice before resisting.)

Telev quickly gathers all the caravan guards and passengers together and asks for the best and bravest to aid him in appeasing the Wood King. Men grow pale, women shake their heads, and even the animals shy away, leaving only our three heroes, Mato Leaf-Dancer, Karis, and White Ink still in front of Telev. The fate of many lives now rest upon their shoulders, but are even these brave souls strong enough to carry the demands of a god? We will find out next time.

This was a short session, but we accomplished a lot with the social system and honestly we really enjoy it so far. I do not have any real complaints, now that I have seen it used a bit more. As I mentioned above, I look forward to giving it a really good test if the PCs decide to get social in finishing this quest or in the next town, which is rife with strong personalities for them to butt heads against.

Nothing too ground breaking this time around, but I am really enjoying STing with this system, and my players seem to be having a blast so far, so I think you guys are really making something awesome here. I cannot wait for them to Exalt, but that is a few games off yet. If you need any clarification on anything from me or want us to focus on something in particular, just let me know.

The Optimization Problem in Exalted

RPG character optimization—that is, the process of squeezing every possible bit of advantage out of the character creation and advancement systems—is an interesting phenomenon. The impulse to optimize, while not universal, is common. I feel it myself. But in a tabletop RPG like Exalted, what does it accomplish?

1: Beating the opposition. This is the most obvious and tempting reason to optimize. The more badass your character, the more NPC ass you can kick! But aside from generic NPC types like soldiers—where I’d say changing the default stat block takes you into house rules territory—the Storyteller builds individual NPCs based on the needs of the game. If you optimize your PC, then the Storyteller optimizes her NPCs accordingly. What have you gained?

2: Beating the other PCs. In a game where the PCs are actively hostile toward one another (such as many Vampire games), this is genuinely relevant. But that’s not typically the case in Exalted. More often, it’s a matter of wanting to one-up the other players. If everyone’s on board with this, XP variance from optimization is actually a feature, because it’s another way of showing you’re a better player. (I would hate such a game, but that’s OK; it’s not for me.) If not everyone is on board, optimization exacerbates the problem but is not its source; you’re going to need to work things out anyway.

3: Accessing gated content faster. If there’s something you want your character to be able to do that you can’t do at chargen (such as WST or Solar Circle Sorcery), then it’s incumbent upon you to finagle the system to do it as fast as possible. Mind you, this can turn out to be more expensive than buying such things in play, which means that in terms of your character’s absolute XP value, you may be less optimized than other PCs!

4: Immanentizing the eschaton. While some chronicles do go on indefinitely, often the Storyteller (and/or the group as a whole) decides at some point to wrap things up. This can be tied to the resolution of an overall chronicle arc, but often it’s simply the result of the action getting so big that, as far as the group is concerned, the PC circle has Fixed All The Things and further play would be anticlimactic. Optimizing your characters at chargen pushes you to that power level faster, resulting in a shorter chronicle.

5: Big numbers. There’s just something satisfying in knowing that you have five dots in Smission, or that you can use Gostak Distimms the Doshes if the need arises. But an Exalted PC already starts with a fuckton of abilities and powers. Once play starts, you’re unlikely to be kicking yourself about the XP you could have had but didn’t. (Unless someone else optimized more than you did, in which case we’re back to #2.)

Exalted’s previous editions certainly leave room for improvement when it comes to optimization. But it’s worth looking at why we optimize before we discuss what we do to counter it.

Magic: The Gathering – Khans of Tarkir Announced

Magic: The Gathering head designer Mark Rosewater announced this fall’s expert-level expansion, Khans of Tarkir, in a video filmed at the end of the Journey Into Nyx Pro Tour. According to the video, the new block is a “war-torn world ruled by warlords,” and the illustrations suggest that it takes its inspiration from Mongol horse-nomads. It’s also the home of planeswalker Sarkhan Vol, whose card previously appeared in the Shards of Alara and Rise of the Eldrazi sets.

Magic: the Gathering giant undead dragon breathing fire

 

Sarkhan left his home plane in search of dragons, for while the creatures fascinated him, all of Tarkir’s dragons are long dead. But as Wizards of the Coast tries to include dragon cards in every set, we can expect a dramatic draconic deluge later in the block.

Click here to read the full post at Fanboys Anonymous.

Ink Monkey Bones #2: Hearthstone Weaponry

It’s Wednesday, so it’s time for more Ink Monkey Bones!

Like last week’s entry, these two Dragon-Blooded Charms interact directly with hearthstones. They’re from the same Ink Monkey post, which provided a wide range of hearthstone and manse Charms for various Exalt types. Hearthstones and manses still exist in 3e, but various rules changes have left these specific Charms ill-suited to 3e play. Hopefully you’ll get some use out of them in ongoing 2e/2.5e games!

For these and other Ink Monkey Charms, I’d once again like to thank Richard Hughes, Charles Spaulding, and Robert Vance for their assistance in Charm development and balancing.


<3>Immaculate Gemstone Blade

<n>Cost: 3m; Mins: Melee 4, Essence 3; Type: Reflexive (Step 1 for attacker, Step 2 for defender)

Keywords: Combo-Basic, Elemental, Obvious

Duration: One scene

Prerequisite Charms: Dragon-Graced Weapon

When this Charm is used on a melee weapon set with a resonant Terrestrial-aspected hearthstone, the substance of the stone spreads through its setting, transforming the weapon’s magical materials into glittering crystal of the same color, structure and luster as the stone. The weapon gains the magical material bonuses for the color of jade that corresponds with the hearthstone’s elemental aspect, as per the optional rules presented in Oadenol’s Codex, p. 21. For example, a Water-aspected stone would provide black jade’s +1 to damage and +2 to defense. These bonuses supplement any existing magical materials bonuses provided by the weapon.

An effect that destroys the infused hearthstone ends the Charm; shards of crystal explode from the melee weapon it was set in, leaving the weapon itself intact and unharmed. The crystal shards turn to dull gray stone as they fall.

If the weapon has multiple hearthstones of different elemental aspects, the Dragon-Blood chooses which of these stones to affect when activating Immaculate Gemstone Blade. She may reflexively spend 1m to switch the effects of the Charm to a different hearthstone, changing the weapon’s appearance and bonuses to match the new stone

[BEGIN BOXED TEXT]

<4>Clarification: Stacking Magical Materials Bonuses

<n>Effects like Immaculate Gemstone Blade, above, or Sun-Sword Concentration (Ink Monkeys, vol. 32: The Dawn Solution [Part 1]), can add a secondary set of magical materials bonuses to supplement an artifact’s standard magical materials bonuses. Multiple secondary sets of bonuses don’t stack with one another; only one secondary set may provide its benefits at any given time.
If a Charm or other effect explicitly grants multiple secondary sets of magical materials bonuses, that effect overrides this rule.

[END BOXED TEXT]

[BEGIN BOXED TEXT]

<4>On Immaculate Gemstone Blade

<n>“Post-2.5 I’d probably have IGB replace the weapon’s MM bonus rather than stack on it, but at this point who cares lol”—Holden (May 19, 2014)

[END BOXED TEXT]

<3>Lotus Jewel Fist

<n>Cost: 3m; Mins: Martial Arts 4, Essence 3; Type: Reflexive (Step 1 for attacker, Step 2 for defender)

Keywords: Combo-Basic, Elemental, Obvious

Duration: One scene

Prerequisite Charms: Blade-Deflecting Palm

The Dragon-Blood touches a resonant Terrestrial-aspected hearthstone and absorbs it into her flesh as fabric soaks up water, so that her hand changes into solid, flexible crystal with the same hue and sheen as the hearthstone. The Charm enhances bare-handed attacks rather than a melee weapon. Otherwise, it functions exactly like Immaculate Gemstone Blade (see above).

Exalted 3e Playtest: Social Influence Feedback

Here’s a snippet of early feedback about the 3e social influence system from the first Marst Chronicle playtest report. Sadly, it doesn’t provide any in-setting context as to how and under what circumstances the players used the social mechanics. But I’m currently working on editing the playgroup’s next session report for publication, and that contains real examples of social influence in actual play, dealing with mortals and spirits alike.

“[The social influence system] flowed nicely, and I only had to go and check the rules a couple times, which speaks to their simplicity.  We all feel that the new Intimacy system is great, and I think it may be the best mechanical system piece I have read. … [T]here was always a question about whether or not a player’s influence attempt would work or not, and as an ST and player I love that feeling, as I think it heightens the game.  Rolling dice simply means more when there is a possible chance of failure.

“On an RP level, I got a lot of comments about how Intimacies helped the players quickly create a complex character and at the same time drive them to develop more interesting and meaningful histories.  This is, in my opinion, a vast step forward from last edition, because Motivations didn’t really do this as well and [2e] Intimacies, while an interesting piece of the game, had no mechanical relevance and thus were often afterthoughts or things you picked up more once you started playing, which left the base character ill-defined.

“… Each [element of the social influence system] worked as intended, did not bog the game down, and did not leave me with the impetus to want to throw off this vile outside force attempting to control my NPCs’ brains.”

We are experiencing temporal difficulties

Sorry about the lack of blog posts over the last couple of days! I’ve been out of state at a friend’s wedding, limiting both my writing time and my internet access. I should be back to posting by tomorrow, or Monday at the latest.

Things to look forward to include feedback on the social influence rules from the Marst chronicle, my report on Thursday’s Zhaojun game, and another Ink Monkey Bones post. There may even be some non-Exalted posts again. Who knows!

Ink Monkey Bones #1: An Infernal Charm

Back in 2010, when Exalted‘s survival was in doubt and it looked like the upcoming Return of the Scarlet Empress book might be the final publication in the line, a few of the game’s writers—Michael “Neph” Goodwin, Eric Minton, John Mørke, Holden Lee Shearer, Dean Shomshak, and Robert Vance—received permission to publish additional Exalted material on the White Wolf blog. Called the Ink Monkeys, this blog collective produced 48 blog posts packed with setting and rules material that’s still used by the community to this day.

When the Ink Monkeys closed their doors to start work on Third Edition, there were still a few approved blog posts queued up for publication. While some of that material has been shared with the community, much has been kept in reserve in case the 3e developers wanted to revise it for future books. But some changes in setting, system, and tone have been so significant that they’ve left bits of Ink Monkeys material unusable in 3e in any form. I’m negotiating with the developers to publish that material now for use in 2e/2.5e games.

Here’s the first approved Ink Monkey Bones release—the last piece of Infernal writing that I’ve done in the past three and a half years.


<2>She Who Lives in Her Name Charms

<3>Ectopsychic Crystal Matrix

<n>Cost: 1m; Mins: Essence 3; Type: Simple (Speed 3)

Keywords: Combo-OK, Sorcerous

Duration: Indefinite

Prerequisite Charms: Mind-Hand Manipulation

Much as the lesser spheres of She Who Lives in Her Name whirl in intricate cycles around her central fire, the Infernal may integrate an attuned hearthstone into her Essence pattern without crude physical contact. Glowing from within, the stone takes up an orbit around the Infernal’s head amid rippling mandalas of esoteric forces and twisted space. A hearthstone set in the Ectopsychic Crystal Matrix provides enhanced Essence respiration and special powers as though it were set into an attuned artifact. An Infernal may have up to (Essence) stones orbiting her at any given time.

This configuration of orbiting stones also functions as a cognitive array, amplifying the Infernal’s intellect and increasing her psychic sensitivity. She gains a pool of orbital dice equal to ([sum of the Manse ratings of all orbiting stones] / 2), rounded up. As a reflexive action, she may withdraw up to (Essence) orbital dice from this pool and add them any roll that involves a Mental Attribute. These count toward the Infernal’s dice cap. Her pool of orbital dice refreshes at the start of every scene. (Adding another stone to the matrix mid-scene does not add more dice to the pool until the pool refreshes.)
Hearthstones may be dislodged from the Ectopsychic Crystal Matrix by a disarm attack (Exalted, p. 158). Removing a hearthstone from its orbit ends the Charm with respect to that stone. This also disrupts the matrix, removing a number of dice equal to the dislodged stone’s Manse rating from the Infernal’s orbital dice pool.

[BEGIN BOXED TEXT]

<4>On Ectopsychic Crystal Matrix

<n>”Jack Vance’s ‘Dying Earth’ stories, with their colorful sorceries, rich post-apocalyptic environments and utterly amoral characters, have always had an influence on Exalted. I couldn’t resist a reference to ‘Morreion,’ one of the finest and darkest tales in his oeuvre. Rest assured that any connection to another popular fantasy RPG is indirect and unintentional.” —E

[END BOXED TEXT]

Exalted 3e Playtest: Mortal Combat

Here’s more from the first Marst Chronicle playtest report. The PCs are still heroic mortals here, so there’s no use of Charms; they’re still working solely within the framework of the baseline combat system. I’ve edited the report to remove digressions and to eliminate references to specific mechanical elements that I’m not authorized to spoil. I hope that it remains informative nonetheless!

“First off, the most frequent comment I got was that [combat] was fun. I have waited years to have said that about an Exalted combat again :).

“The combat was the 3 PCs against 7 bandits. I used the bandits individually instead of trying out battle groups, but that is coming, rest assured.

“The combat began with the bandits sneaking into the caravan area in hopes of robbing the traveling merchants. Other than Karis, the rest of the guard—a mere 15 men—were mostly not paying great attention, as this caravan route is rarely attacked. When the call to arms was finally issued, the bandits were already upon them, and only the PCs were prepared to oppose them.

“The combat began with Karis splitting her actions and quietly finding a shadow to fire upon a bandit from. This, coupled with [REDACTED], let her strike from ambush, which we all agreed worked well and liked that it only really worked once per combat, before [REDACTED]. The fight ebbed and flowed nicely. The archer danced away from several rushes while building her [combat momentum] up before unleashing several devastating attacks—some coupled with social actions to scare the bandits away now that they were wounded, others to incapacitate foes without killing them.

“Here I will note that I got several comments on how much [REDACTED] seemed to add to the depth of combat. We enjoyed that there are options other than “harm the bad guy,” and even better that we are encouraged to make up our own [REDACTED] and use them as we need. For example, rather than killing one bandit, [Karis’ player] decided she wanted to shoot an arrow into his clothing, effectively pinning him to the side of a wagon. This was easily made into a [REDACTED] as we went and it worked like a charm using a variation of the new grapple rules.

“Mato got himself embroiled into an interesting back and forth fight with a bandit, which involved using the scenery to stay out of close combat reach and the trading back and forth of multiple thrown attacks, before [Mato’s player]—using [combat momentum] he had built up from a fleeing bandit—struck his foe unconscious with a powerful blow to the head on a very cool and well-timed boomerang stunt.

“With White Ink, we found that moving between Melee and Brawl attacks worked quite smoothly, and that greatswords make you feel really badass when you hit with them. His larger soak also seemed to work as a solid balance to his lower [defense], as when he was hit he did not ever lose much [combat momentum] as his light weapon-wielding foes had issues rolling many dice against him.

“Not everything was rosy for the PCs though, and if not for them managing to hold out long enough for the other guards to join in, things were setting up to be rough for them, as Karis was [REDACTED] and Mato and White Ink were both headed in that direction. The combat also only took about 40 minutes, and that includes several pauses to look up rules, time for questions, and some moments of “Oops” where [combat momentum] was not adjusted correctly. So all in all it went pretty quickly, and I expect it to get better and better as we all get used to it.”