Here’s the latest report from Contagion of Law designer Shane Cherry’s Pennsylvania playtest group for Exalted 3e. For this session, the group was specifically testing out various noncombat mechanics.
When we last left our heroes, they had a great burden on their shoulders. The Wood King known as the Eldest had threatened the entire caravan with death if a girl from his village was not returned to him quickly. As Karis, Mato and White Ink stood talking about where to start, the caravan master, Oberon, stepped up along with another man. Oberon said the man was a traveling monk and priest. Due to the nature of this task he felt the monk, who went by Bending Sky, would be of help. Bending Sky was not all that he appeared to be, and he had a clever tongue, a sharp wit, and a way with words that would make most courtiers green with envy.
1) Character Creation – Bending Sky’s character sheet was finished in about 20 minutes, including all calculations and intimacies, and it did not feel rushed. This is just excellent. From mechanically savvy players to more RP based players, I really enjoy that the sheet part can be done so swiftly and smoothly.
2) Social Influence System – Once again, these pieces of the game worked incredibly smoothly, and I have yet to get a true complaint about it in play. Bending Sky is definitely a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and he wasted no time filling all the fair maidens of Elder Pine with thoughts of his charm and handsome features. Bending Sky also treated with the Eldest to explain why he had tried to sneak out of the village, saying that it was not an attempt to flee this dire situation (which it was), but rather it was so that he could remain unnoticed in hopes of catching the criminal swiftly and unawares, for he too understood what it was like to have a loved one go missing and to want her returned. Having used the great elemental’s Intimacy toward his people to leverage the situation, the elemental was blinded to Bending Sky’s lie and thus persuaded to allow the gregarious, if roguish, man to avoid meeting an undesirable end.
(I appreciate how the smaller dice pools of EX3 allow for some really tense moments to arise, as the difference between 4 successes and 6 successes can be HUGE. The deck was truly stacked against Bending Sky’s player here, and given his previous rolls, it seemed as though he was not going to make this one. But as heroes often do, he pulled out all the stops when things looked the worst, and he managed to squeak by the mighty Wood King’s [REDACTED]. This probably saved his life.)
Still not done with his manipulative ways, the new member of the party called out to a spirit of the wind in hopes of receiving its blessing for his task. In exchange for prayer, proper occult beckoning (this part was glossed over as we lack the rules), and the ornate bauble he had nicked from a local merchant, a Sylph did indeed come to help him on his way. Amusingly, the monk could not help himself, for the Sylph was of great ephemeral beauty, and instead of leaving well enough alone, he filled her with a great desire for him through clever words and well-placed caresses. So enamored was the Sylph that she has vowed to stay near the handsome traveler till the tides of time wash his memory from her, which for a sylph means maybe two days. NPCs were not the only ones to fall under the spell that Bending Sky worked with just his silver tongue. He wove lies to the PCs as well, both confusing them and endearing him to them. It was only toward the end of the day that his lies perhaps became too much, and they began to question who he truly was.
While Bending Sky worked his way through the small village, twisting the hearts and minds of even their great god, Karis was busy attending to the task at hand. Showing true concern for her life and the lives of the other caravan members, Karis quickly began moving among the small town’s people until she managed to find the missing child’s mother, who was hysterical over the loss of her daughter. With soothing words and heartfelt arguments—geared towards reminding the mother that not all was lost and that her daughter needed her to be strong and help those who were tasked with the search—the mother was persuaded to share all of what she knew regarding her daughter’s disappearance.
(From this, we learned just how hard social influence can be for those not geared toward it. Karis is not terrible at it, but it is far from her best skill set, and given a few modifiers working against her, even a housewife was difficult for her to overcome without the right argument. Karis’ player did in fact fail an earlier attempt to calm the mother because she did not target the right intimacy. I really like this, as it begins to help grade out the difference between primary social characters a lot more than in previous editions, and makes heavily investing in those skills something that has noticeable benefits.)
3) Investigation and Larceny Systems – I will preface this by saying that to some degree, the new rules were close to how I always ran Investigation and Larceny stuff, but man, does having the rules broken down help a lot! We all love the new [REDACTED] action under Investigation, and I even had the player of Bending Sky remark that he really needed to invest in that ability as he didn’t realize how awesome those actions were. In game, Karis and White Ink were the ones using these actions the most, but this was an area where Karis could truly shine, as she has spent years perfecting her investigative skills in order to catch mistakes she has made in her larcenous undertakings. So White Ink mostly just aided her, which I represented as granting her an extra die or lowering the difficulty, depending on what was occurring.
Karis prowled among the caravan guards and merchants, looking to see if any fit the profile of a kidnapper. While there were many dishonest, violent, or lazy men and women, she did not find any who she believed to be kidnappers. When the worried mother brought her back to her family’s farm, she began to investigate the scene with intense scrutiny, for she knew she did not have much time.
With White Ink’s help, she pieced together the child’s journey from the house to the backyard, and here is where she found the strangest thing of all, although to the casual observer it would be almost impossible to notice. In various spots coming and going from the yard area, Karis noticed several places where, instead of being trampled by use, the green grass stood up more, as if reaching toward the sun or a source of water. Next to these odd markings were two sets of smaller footprints that crushed the grass as normal. These two pair of prints led out of the yard and beyond the great bramble wall the Eldest had erected to keep any from escape.
Karis also observed that there was a small drag mark next to the smaller footprints. Remembering what the mother had said earlier about her daughter loving a large stuffed doll, Karis was able to put together that this was almost beyond a doubt the daughter and her captor. (Again, I want to reiterate how much fun we all thought this new investigation system could be, and from an ST perspective I really enjoyed how it encouraged me to give out clues and hints that can lead them to an answer, instead of just saying, “If they pass the difficulty, give them a straight answer.”)
After his tryst with the Sylph, Bending Sky reunited with Karis and White Ink at the home of the local priest, who Karis had sought out so he could beseech the Eldest to open the wall for them. The priest, of course, was terribly biased against them, and essentially said that if they wanted his god’s help they had best offer placation and sacrifice like anyone else. So stalwart was he in his disgust at all members of this caravan that he could not be persuaded from this stance no matter the argument.
It’s here that Karis showed her true profession. With light footsteps and hands as soft as a summer breeze, she slid in among the merchants of the caravan and relieved them of some of their more rare goods. A terracotta plate cast in the kilns of Chiarascuro; a fillet from a fish that can only be found in the Dreaming Sea, dried and seasoned to perfection; and a 10-year-old bottle of peach brandy from the Blessed Isle itself. So pleased was Karis with her success that she failed to notice Bending Sky swap out the brandy for a fine, but simpler bottle of sake.
(The rules for pickpocketing and opening locks worked great, took no time at all, and resulted in a lot of fun for our thief character. I will remark again that I still enjoy the ability for one good roll to affect the outcome of things. Bending Sky is only a passable thief, but he yet again scored a brilliant roll and was able to pull a fast one on Karis, whose eyes are nearly as sharp as her hands are swift.)
With another successful placation, the so-called priest Bending Sky gave forth the fine fruits of Karis’ labor, and for his trouble he was rewarded with three leaf pendants on hemp rope. With these, our heroes were able to walk beyond the bramble wall and out into the beginnings of a forest. None of them being great trackers, they had to travel slowly, and many hours were lost as they followed the odd trail left by the girl and by what Bending Sky guessed to be a small forest god.
Finally, as time seemed to be running out—given the need for a return trip—Karis heard the burbling of a brook and the giggles of a small child. With trained grace, she moved through the shadows and over noisy underbrush without so much as a sound. What she found at her destination was a small wonder to her eyes: A hidden glen with a small pond lay before her. The grass seemed greener there, flowers bloomed throughout, and the trees bent this way and that, forming an open dome around the small sanctuary. She also saw a sight that took her breath away. A woman more beautiful than any she had ever seen lounged next to the pond, but this woman was made of water and her laughter was the burbling brook. Next to her, a young girl giggled and danced, both so caught up in their reverie they did not notice Karis peering into the glen before returning to her party.
It is here the game left off, but plenty of questions remain before our heroes, for how will they retrieve the girl without upsetting an elemental in her home?
4) Roll and Value Modifiers – These continue to be a great way to shift the story and its encounters around, based on the RP of the PCs and the situations they find themselves in. I am still learning to use them, but again thank you for including them the way you did.
5) Combat – No combat this time around.
Hope this one is as useful as the last few. If you need anything clarified let me know. We will be playing again this week and hopefully wrapping up this adventure and moving onto the next town where an even more interesting challenge, and yet more social and investigative testing, awaits them 🙂