Month: July 2014

Ink Monkey Bones #12: Auguinare, the Blood of the Forge

The following Second Circle demon was originally designed for my first Exalted chronicle back in 2002. I wrote her up several years later for Manual of Exalted Power—Infernals; I’d planned to throw in a few crafting-related demons to supplement the equipment chapter, and the book’s crazy deadline made me look back to my previous work rather than invest time in designing new NPCs from scratch. When putting demons in Infernals proved a non-starter, I pushed her back to Compass of Celestial Directions—Malfeas. But after taking a good hard look at her, I cut her from my outline because she’s too thematically and mechanically similar to Alveua and Berengiere, and I wanted to use my limited wordcount to provide broader options for Storytellers and demon-summoning PCs. Still, she has her fans, so here she is in all her 2e glory.


<3>Auguinare, the Blood of the Forge

<n>Demon of the Second Circle, Expressive Soul of the Manse of Echoes Ascending

When Amalion first found delight in her own loveliness, the Blood of the Forge appeared to share that delight with her. Auguinare remains her progenitor’s most favored soul; the Manse of Echoes Ascending pampers her, granting her whims and calling her ‘daughter.’ She appears as an alabaster-skinned maiden with glossy black hair and six fingers on each hand. Her eyes glow a luminous violet hue; her blood shares that color, hardening into violet metal when spilled and taking on whatever form she desires.

Sorcerers summon Auguinare through orgiastic rites or human sacrifice. The common element of these rituals is neither blood nor life; rather, Auguinare craves passion, and only sufficient passion may call her across the bars of her prison. Emotion is her hallmark; when she sheds her blood, whatever emotion she feels in her heart pulses in the depths of the resulting bloodmetal. Anyone who touches a bloodmetal item’s warm, shining surface feels the fervor locked within it. Moreover, she may admix her own blood with another’s, imbuing the resulting alloy with the donor’s emotions rather than her own.

Auguinare needs no forge, for her intent shapes her bloodmetal more precisely than any blacksmith’s hammer. She travels about the demon prison in search of demons whose passions inspire her craft. Mortal emotion is more precious still, for all that its metal rusts in the fullness of time, and she seeks it out whenever she may. Infernal artificers petition her to contribute her metals to their relics, as demonic Essence bonds more easily with materials that share its nature. Ligier himself calls upon her to supply bloodmetal for his works, and the Shogunate-era Register of Enchanted Weapons dubs her ‘the Mother of Gervesin.’

Ordinary emotion suffices for ordinary craft, but she requires emotions of preternatural potency to do her finest work. To incite passions among her blood sources, she practices play-acting in many modes: student, confidante, lover or adversary. She utterly submerges herself in her chosen persona, only to shed it like a serpent’s skin when the need passes. Afterwards, all she feels is a dwindling affection for those who contributed to her craft. The passions she craves often inspire the potent voices that Berengiere seeks to weave into cloth, and their squabbles over ardent mortals (and over Berengiere’s passion morays, many of whom Auguinare has suborned) have resulted in a long-standing rivalry.

Summoning: (Obscurity 2/4) Summoners invoke Auguinare to forge items of bloodmetal or to provide exotic ingredients from which to craft wonders. She has also been employed to seduce or suborn a target, though she always seeks to inspire a passion in the chosen victim that she may congeal into metal. She occasionally emerges from Malfeas when mortal blood, shed in a moment of passion, falls upon molten metal.

Motivation: To work great passion into metal. Auguinare’s Intimacies include such things as Amalion, blood, metal, smiths, her mortal lovers, her creations and the last three beings to willingly give her some of their blood for her craft.

Attributes: Strength 5, Dexterity 6, Stamina 5; Charisma 4, Manipulation 3, Appearance 5; Perception 5, Intelligence 3, Wits 4

Virtues: Compassion 2, Conviction 4, Temperance 3, Valor 3

Abilities: Athletics 2, Awareness 4, Craft (Fire) 3 (Bloodmetal +3), Dodge 4, Integrity 2, Linguistics (Native: Old Realm; Others: Flametongue, High Realm, Low Realm, Riverspeak, Guild Cant) 5, Lore 3, Martial Arts 4, Medicine 3 (Drawing Blood +2), Melee 4, Occult 2, Presence 5, Performance 4, Resistance 4, Socialize 3 (Staying In Character +3)

Backgrounds: Artifact 5, Backing 3, Contacts 3, Cult 1, Mentor 5, Resources 5, Sanctum 2

Charms:

Amethyst Awareness

Call—Those gripped in the throes of powerful emotions

Creation of Perfection—Transform freshly drawn blood into metal

Essence Plethora—10 extra motes

Foretell the Future—Auguinare can sometimes predict when and where a particularly potent emotion will be felt, such as the flare of passion from a Celestial Exalt’s Limit Break

Materialize—Costs 70 motes

Measure the Wind—The Blood of the Forge may measure the strength of any creature whose blood she has turned to metal

Meat of Broken Flesh—Auguinare gains motes when she draws blood to craft into metal

Natural Prognostication—Sense impending moments of passion

Ox-Body Technique

Principle of Motion—Auguinare possesses up to nine banked actions

Stoke the Flame—Strengthen an emotion currently felt

Touch of Grace—Repair things of metal with a touch

Sheathing the Material Form—If Auguinare has a bleeding wound (at least one unbound, unhealed level of lethal damage), her blood spreads and hardens into armor

Symbol of Invincible Authority—Immunity to anything she has crafted

First (Ability) Excellency—Craft, Presence, Resistance

Second (Ability) Excellency—Craft, Presence, Resistance

Third (Ability) Excellency—Craft, Presence, Resistance

Infinite (Ability) Mastery—Craft

Join Battle: 8

Attacks:

Punch: Speed 5, Accuracy 11, Damage 5B, Parry DV 6, Rate 3

Kick: Speed 5, Accuracy 10, Damage 8B, Parry DV 4, Rate 2

Clinch: Speed 6, Accuracy 10, Damage 5B, Parry DV —, Rate 1, Tags P

Bloodmetal Sword (Amethyst Bodhisattva of Wrath): Speed 4, Accuracy 14, Damage 9L, Parry DV 6, Rate 3

Soak: 12L/15B (Robes of hatesilver embroidered with threads of gold-of-enlightenment, 10L/10B, -2 mobility penalty, 2 fatigue value)

Health Levels: -0/-1/-1/-1/-1/-1/-1/-2/-2/-2/-2/-2/-2/-4/Incap

Dodge DV: 8 (6 in armor-robes)        Willpower: 9

Essence: 6            Essence Pool: 115

Other Notes: Auguinare may harvest bloodmetal from any creature with life-giving fluids pumping through its veins. Her own blood is lambent violet metal, while mortal blood congeals into flaking, rusty iron. Other beings yield metal with distinct characteristics based on the nature of their Essence. For instance, the blood of a Solar Exalt produces gold, Ligier’s blood forms luminous green iron, and the vital fluids of Ululaya, the Blood Red Moon, harden into crimson silver. Treat an item made from bloodmetal as superior equipment (see Exalted, pp. 133-134, 139, 365-366). Its properties depend on the strength and nature of the imbued passion; an ordinary emotion generates fine equipment, an emotion anchored to an Intimacy results in exceptional equipment and an emotion rooted in a Motivation produces perfect equipment or an exotic ingredient for crafting an artifact or infernal relic. Specific bonuses follow from the nature of the emotion; a sword forged from fear might have high Defense, for example, while one drawn from hate might deal more Damage. Draining an emotion into metal purges it from the donor’s heart, but it will return with time. If an Intimacy or Motivation is poured into bloodmetal, it is lost. Acquiring a new Motivation to replace one lost in this way requires the usual expenditure of two experience points.

Auguinare suffers a one-die penalty when working with the five magical materials of Creation because her nature is not aligned with them.

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Zhaojun Chronicle: Session #3.1

With a week before he needed to report aboard the Pearl of Danaa’d, Zhao Suria Lautan decided to visit his family, who lived in a manor overlooking Jantan’s Hook, a giant-frog ranching village two days’ travel from Goldenseal. Lautan and his valet, Bozhao Three Gills, traveled there in a jouncing carriage along with Lautan’s aunt—Zhao Yujen Sutera, an elderly widow with a passion for gambling—and her middle-aged maid.

Aside from the aches and pains accompanying a carriage ride along rutted country roads, they encountered nothing noteworthy until they reached Jantan’s Hook. In the village’s dim, noisy teahouse—where they lost Sutera to a game involving a rooster pecking at dice—they spoke to Three Gills’ ne’er-do-well brother Six Fingers, who shared tales of the weird hybrid creatures that had been seen near the village in recent weeks. These ranged from a flightless feathered badger, currently on display in the family manor after being stuffed by Lautan’s father, to a full-sized chimera of giant frog and grizzly bear. Tracks suggested that some of these creatures had come from the steep, overgrown hills to the southeast—an area uninhabited in living memory.

Returning to his ancestral manor, Lautan raised the matter at dinner with his family. His mother Duandai, the head of the household, agreed with his assessment that a giant frog-bear could be a threat to the village, while his father Zhiye suggested that the creature’s size was probably exaggerated. “Frog-wife’s tales,” Zhiye scoffed. “You know how people can be.” He added that Lautan should take his seventeen-year-old brother Tanlo along to track the beast, saying the boy could use some seasoning.

Tanlo himself wandered in out of the rain at this time. After he and Lautan sniped at one another for a bit, conversation meandered to Lautan’s work, his friendship with his cousin Merak—of whom his father disapproved—and the crippling tribute paid to the Blessed Isle. Lautan complained about the Realm’s interference in Zhaojun, which caused his grandmother Laolei to ramble on for a time about how things were better in the old days before Zhaojun bowed its head to the Realm. His parents argued that the Realm was there to stay. “The only power to resist the Realm is on the far side of the world,” said Duandai

Amid the debris of the last course, Zhiye pressed his elder son about the possibility of a daughter-in-law. Lautan attempted to deflect the issue to his younger brother—“Tanlo’s a looker,” he protested—but he eventually agreed to see the village astrologer the next day about when the time would be right to marry. He then returned to his room—which his family had left unchanged even after he left to pursue his naval career—to rest.

The next day, Lautan led a force gathered by Three Gills to track down the frog-bear. This included a couple of local hunters and a dozen youths armed with spears and hooked frog-nets. They found later that morning in a wooded area, sunning itself in the river. Intending to capture the creature alive, Lautan positioned the group in the lower boughs with nets. Failing to persuade any of the youths to act as bait and lure it into the trap, he and Three Gills stood beneath the nets and fired blunt arrows to sting the frog-bear into action.

The first part of the plan worked perfectly. The beast—large and hirsute as a bear, with greasy froglike limbs and a frog’s head—lumbered forward into the trees. Unfortunately, the nets did not snare it effectively, and it tore them away with vicious ursine claws. At Lautan’s order, the hunters and youths leapt down with their spears, only for one lad to have his head bitten clean off! As spearpoints failed to do more than scratch the frog-bear, it smacked Three Gills away from it, the boy trailing blood as he rolled downslope toward the river.

By the time Lautan himself drew his sword and engaged the beast, it had slain both trackers and half the youths, sending the rest fleeing. But his first stroke drew blood, shearing through fur and cutting deeply into its side. It snapped and kicked at him, but he dodged its strokes and slashed it across the nose. Shocked by the sudden pain, it fled to the river. Lautan pursued, only to have it turn on him at the river’s edge. Both struck simultaneously; his blade stabbed into its open mouth, piercing its brain, and it sagged and died.

After hacking the thing’s head off—as a trophy, or perhaps simply to satisfy himself that it was really dead—Lautan returned to where the survivors groaned. Three Gills’ arm had been mangled, while the side of Tanlo’s once-handsome face had been torn open, destroying an eye. Lautan shook his head. “Mom’s gonna kill me,” he said.

Status Report: July 26, 2014

Latest updates on my involvement with Exalted Third Edition:

I’d planned to start off by saying that I’d completely wrapped up my role on the 3e corebook, having finished my revisions to the setting and antagonist chapters and turned in my art notes. But I’ve been given a chance to make some last-minute flavor tweaks to mortal antagonists, so that’s back on my plate. Hopefully I can finish up in time to get to the beach before my vacation ends!

Myrtle Beach, SC

I’ve started on my first post-corebook assignment. I cannot discuss details, but a sword may be involved.

Last night, I was up until 4am on a conference call with the rest of the writing and development staff. We talked about what’s left to do on the corebook and about ideas for both immediate and long-term upcoming projects, focusing largely on Dragon-Blooded and Lunar material. I also inadvertently got everyone excited about printing out their own 11″x17″ copies of the Ex3 map. Hopefully they’ll post their own blurry photos of the map, like the one in this old post.

On Wednesday, I’m meeting up with a new writer who happens to live in my city. We hope this will bring about a new era of peace and creativity!

Ink Monkey Bones #11: Gemstone Ocean Hero

This Hell-dwelling Dragon-Blood was originally mentioned in passing in Roll of Glorious Divinity V. I put him in my outline for Compass of Celestial Directions: Malfeas along with a handful of other non-demon antagonists, but only got partway through his write-up before I realized that I wouldn’t have room to fit him in. (I wrote way too much for that book, on the principle that I could then cut the weakest antagonists from the chapter for a stronger result.) Later, I worked on finishing him up so he could go up on the Ink Monkeys blog, only for the blog to close up shop before I was quite done. Here he is in all his 2011 glory!

I’d like to give a special thanks to Richard Hughes, also known as Kukla on the Onyx Paths forums, for helping me polish off Gemstone Ocean Hero’s combat stats. (Now that I’m working on 3e, the 2e combat rules have become a distant memory for me.) Thanks, Richard!


Gemstone Ocean Hero

The Dancing Stranger, Water Aspect

As a small child, Gemstone Ocean Hero was found on the shore of the Western isle of Orchid after a storm, a precious jewel cast up by the sea. Priests of the Western fertility-god Gomata took him in and raised him as a temple dancer. The child became ever more beautiful and graceful as he grew older, enthralling all who encountered him. Gomata himself favored the boy, taking him as a lover when he came of age.

At the age of eighteen, Gemstone Exalted while defending the temple from marauding Lintha. Instead of staying on Orchid or joining the Realm as a legionnaire or a monk, he chose to wander the Threshold and taste civilization on his own terms. He spent years immersing himself in new cultures and experiences while pursuing his fascination with dance and its ancillary disciplines—music, acting and the martial arts. Within a decade he was the most celebrated dancer in the Threshold, and his repute stretched as far as the Blessed Isle.

For all his finely-honed skill and supernatural puissance, Gemstone craved earthly things: wealth, lovers and powerful patrons. He cut a romantic swath through every city he visited, bedding many prominent men—and a few equally prominent women—in the wake of each performance. He likewise accepted offers from Threshold lords to spy on their rivals, and eventually entered the service of the All-Seeing Eye. In time, his path led him to a prolonged liaison with the wealthiest and most powerful man in the world: Ragara, eldest son of the Scarlet Empress.

By this time, the Empress had become aware of Gemstone’s skills. Perhaps to separate her son—whose ambitions she still scrutinized, despite his ostensible withdrawal from Dynastic politics—from such a gifted intelligence asset, she personally offered Gemstone the assignment of a lifetime: to act as her personal agent in Malfeas. As vulnerable as ever to the blandishments of the mighty, he agreed. As the All-Seeing Eye’s agents spread word of his retirement into anonymous seclusion, Gemstone crossed the threshold into the Demon City.

Gemstone Ocean Hero never lacks for patrons or lovers among the jaded aristocracy of Hell, for he dances so brilliantly, so beguilingly, that demons of the Second Circle view him as a peer. Meanwhile, he practices the spy’s trade for demons willing to purchase the services of an outsider—and conveys what he learns to certain oft-conjured demons to pass along to their Iselsi summoners.

For the moment, Makarios serves as Gemstone’s Infernal sponsor. Alas, the Sigil’s Dreamer is a jealous paramour who parades the Dragon-Blood around as a living ornament. In spare moments, Gemstone indulges in affairs with more free-spirited demons, such as Florivet, Janequin and certain First Circle ingénues. When Makarios discovers this infidelity—as he inevitably will—the consequences may prove dire.

Motivation: To master the arts of dance and desire. Gemstone’s Intimacies include dancing, beauty, fame, triumph, lovers, strong benefactors and the sea.

Aspect: Water

Anima Banner: Luminous sea creatures whirling in intricate patterns through streamers of sea-green water. Due to his prolonged stay in Malfeas, the sea creatures have a distinctly alien cast.

Attributes: Strength 3, Dexterity 5, Stamina 3; Charisma 4, Manipulation 3, Appearance 5; Perception 3, Intelligence 3, Wits 3

Virtues: Compassion 2, Conviction 3, Temperance 2, Valor 4

Abilities: Athletics 3, Awareness 3 (Patterns of Movement +2), Bureaucracy 2, Dodge 4 (While Unarmed +2), Integrity 2, Investigation 3, Larceny 3, Linguistics (Native: Seatongue, Other: Flametongue, High Realm, Old Realm, Riverspeak, Skytongue) 5, Lore 3, Martial Arts 4 (While Immaculately Well-Dressed and Well-Groomed +2), Occult 3 (Malfeas +1), Performance 5 (Dancing +3), Presence 3, Resistance 3 (Prolonged Exertion +3), Ride 1, Sail 2, Socialize 5 (Seduction +1), Stealth 3

Backgrounds: Allies 2, Artifact 4 (Bracers of Silver Flame), Artifact 2 (Silken Armor), Backing 1 (Makarios), Contacts 1, Cult 1 (venerated by mortal dancers in the Threshold), Mentor 2, Resources 4

Charms:

Athletics: Effortlessly Rising Flame

Dodge: Third Dodge Excellency, Threshold Warding Stance, Hopping Firecracker Evasion, Safety Among Enemies

Larceny: First Larceny Excellency

Martial Arts: First Martial Arts Excellency

Performance: First Performance Excellency, Hidden Petal Aria Method, Soul-Stirring Performance Method

Presence: Auspicious First Meeting Attitude

Resistance: Ox-Body Technique, Third Resistance Excellency, Strength of Stone Technique, Impervious Skin of Stone Meditation, Vitriol Protection Form

Socialize: First Socialize Excellency, Sweeten-the-Tap Method, Jade Defense, Warm-Faced Seduction Style, Wary Yellow Dog Attitude

Golden Janissary Style: All Charms

Terrestrial Hero Style: Currents Sweep to Sea, Pounding Surf Style, Flow from the Rocks, Terrestrial Hero Form

White Veil Style: Alehouse Memory Stance

Join Battle: 6 (Applicable Charm: Wary Yellow Dog Attitude)

Attacks:

Punch: Speed 5, Accuracy +1, Damage 3B, Parry DV 6, Rate 3
Kick: Speed 5, Accuracy +0, Damage 6B, Parry DV 4, Rate 2
Clinch: Speed 6, Accuracy +0, Damage 3B, Parry DV —, Rate 1, Tags P

Soak: 7L/6B (Silken armor, 5L/3B)

Health Levels: -0/-1/-1/-1/-2/-2/-2/-4/Incap

Dodge DV: 9 (8 if armed) Willpower: 8

Essence: 4

Personal Essence: 12 Peripheral Essence: 31

Committed Essence: 6

Other Notes: Despite his youthful countenance, Gemstone Ocean Hero is well over two hundred old and possesses a wide range of abilities. Decades of residence in Hell have left him jaded; little in Creation could shock him now.

Gemstone wears silken armor and a pair of hearthstone bracers forged from blue and green jade. His home contains all manner of valuables, including a sizable library containing works on infernal history and culture, texts on Malfean dances and martial arts training manuals.

Four gilmyne serve Gemstone Ocean Hero. Sharing their master’s flying copper house, they serve as both bodyguards and tutors, educating him in the thousands of dances known to their race.

[BEGIN BOXED TEXT]

Vitriol Protection Form

This variant of the (Element) Protection Form Charm (see Manual of Exalted Power: Dragon-Blooded, p. 147) provides a soak bonus against vitriol-based elemental attacks, including hellwands, and attacks with vitriol-tainted jade weapons. The Dragon-Blood adds his Essence to his (Stamina + Resistance) pool to resist immersion in vitriol, Malfean flame and other baneful substances native to Hell. When this Charm is in effect, it turns the user’s skin the sickly ocher hue of tainted jade.

[END BOXED TEXT]

[BEGIN BOXED TEXT]

Harmonious Silver Sentinel (Artifact ***, Sapience ***)

This hovering orb of Malfean silver emits music akin to a harp strung with bells. It contains the Essence of a neomah-crafted First Circle demon, a hybrid of angyalka and gilmyne. The orb provides all of the normal benefits of an Ever Vigilant Guardian (see Wonders of the Lost Age, p.104-105), although its attacks take the form of blasts of congealed music and silver fire rather than bolts of raw Essence. It also provides its owner access to a handful of Spirit Charms. The orb is always warm to the touch; wisps of fragrant smoke trail from it when it moves. (For more details on hellforged wonders, see The Manual of Exalted Power: Infernals, pp.196-199.)

Ordinarily, a hellforged wonder may not use its Charms independently. Automatons such as the Harmonious Silver Sentinel lack this restriction; like hellstriders, they have full access to their own Charms.

Urge: Express the splendor of the world through music and/or dance.

Attributes: Strength 1, Dexterity 5, Stamina 5; Charisma 5, Manipulation 3, Appearance 3; Perception 5, Intelligence 3, Wits 5

Virtues: Automaton: Never fails Valor checks, never makes others

Abilities: Archery 5, Awareness 5, Dodge 5, Integrity 5, Performance 5, War 5

Charms:

Essence Bite—Silver flames enshroud the sentinel (4L damage)

Hoodwink—Emits mesmerizing lights and tones

Natural Prognostication—The sentinel’s music indicates the incipience of peril, opportunity and moments of change

First (Ability) Excellency—Awareness, Dodge, Performance

Join Battle: 10

Attacks:

Beam: Speed 4, Accuracy 11, Damage 14B or 10L, Range 50, Rate 3

Soak: 10L/13B (Hardness: 3L/3B)

Health Levels: -0/-1/-1/-1/-2/-2/-2/-4/Incap

Dodge DV: 5 + (half the user’s Essence) Willpower: 10 (0 against its owner)

Essence: 3 Essence Pool: 30

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The Three Faces of Troupe-Style Play

The term “troupe-style play” is bandied about pretty often at my table. Other role-playing gamers aren’t always familiar with it. But the term may cause confusion even among those who’ve used it, because it can refer to more than one thing.

One meaning of troupe-style play is that players take turns running the game. This can involve assigning most responsibilities to an “Alpha storyteller” who is generally in charge, while still allowing other players to run side stories. Alternatively, it can mean spreading out authority further, so that Storytellers take turns running the game or divide up their responsibilities in other ways—one might run non-player characters in social scenes while another adjudicates combat, for example. This is the definition appearing in Ars Magica, the game that coined the term. It’s also how I run my Basic D&D campaign; I’ve been busy lately with Exalted 3e work, so some of my other players have been running sessions for me. Sometimes I even get to stop by for a couple of hours and play!

Another meaning is that each player runs two or more player characters, choosing which one to run at any given time. Ars Magica also gives explicit rules for this, with each player running one wizard, one skilled non-wizardly “companion,” and any number of the group’s hirelings and henchmen (or “grogs”). Some indie RPGs, such as Capes, go even farther by allowing players to draw all their PCs from a common pool.

Ultima IV NPC dialogueYet a third meaning is that whenever a PC is not in a scene, its player may volunteer, or be assigned by the Storyteller, to run an NPC in the scene. This is ad hoc for one-off NPCs, but a player may repeatedly take on the role of a recurring NPC. (Such recurring NPCs may effectively become secondary PCs, much like in the previous version of troupe-style play, though they arrive there by a different route. My Exalted players fondly recall the demon merchant Makarios and the wandering Dragon-Blooded hero Alec Doren as secondary PCs of this sort.)

This third meaning is the one I personally use when discussing troupe-style play, because it’s the one that I have used—and continue to use—in actual play. Turning responsibility for NPCs over to the players has proved invaluable in keeping my games running smoothly and making them exciting and engaging for the players.

Running NPCs—whether minor characters like gate guards, or major characters like family members, reigning monarchs, or the superpowered rivals of other PCs—keeps players involved in a scene when their own PCs aren’t present. This isn’t an issue in every game; it certainly doesn’t come up often in my Basic D&D campaign, a classic dungeon crawl where splitting the party is a no-no (unless you want your exploring thief to disappear around a corner and never return). But in character-oriented games, splitting up lets you nab the spotlight for your PC’s story. Instead of making players feel guilty for pushing the other players onto the sidelines, troupe-style play ensures that they’re also involved and engaged.

This also improves the game experience on the Storyteller’s side. It reduces the workload to run the game; I know I already have my hands full keeping track of game mechanics, setting details, and plot threads, and letting someone pull the weight of running non-plot-centric NPCs makes things much easier for me. Troupe play also makes it feasible to run interactions between NPCs that would otherwise degenerate into farcical exchanges where the Storyteller plays every part. (“And how are you this fine day, sister Mnemon?” “Quite well, sister V’neef. One sugar or two? Lemon?”)

Planescape: Torment dialogue

Example: During my first Exalted game, the PCs visited a tiny little kingdom called Tul Tuin, where they met various members of the royal family. I made sure that each of the prince’s sons, daughters, and lovers was run by a different player. Then, a few sessions in, I started a scene in which the entire royal family got together for dinner. I didn’t have to explain anything; after a few seconds of perplexity, everyone fell right into character, and we ran a half-hour all-NPC scene that illuminated all the players regarding local politics and the royal family intrigues. It’s not a trick I would use often—certainly, I haven’t tried it since—but it was lots of fun and a great change of pace that couldn’t have been accomplished so smoothly by other means.

On a related note, when players put their own spin on NPCs, this helps avoid the samey-ness that can creep into the Storyteller’s portrayal of background characters. I mean, I could play every NPC member of disgraced military officer Coravan Calan’s entourage, but why would I? We’d lose out on Jon’s sarcastic portrayal of Calan’s manservant, not to mention Conn’s vacuously obnoxious presentation of Calan’s nephew. These are better NPCs than I’d manage, and better NPCs make for a better game!

Troupe-style play also enhances recollection of play, in a way paralleling that of session summaries. Players are more likely to remember a scene if they were in it, and are more likely to remember what an NPC did if they ran that NPC. I’ve certainly noticed less confusion about the events of previous sessions in my games now that I regularly assign players to take on NPC roles! This is especially true of certain players who tune out when their PC is off-camera. (The player in question knows who he is—hey dude, if you’re playing Kashif’s character’s vain brother, you can’t play games on my iPad at the same time! Ha!)

Disgaea dialogueLastly, if you’re a player, playing NPCs can be fun! You get to play characters that you otherwise wouldn’t—obnoxious children! Senile grandparents! Drug-addled gamblers! Bloodthirsty zealots! Unintelligible foreigners! Jaded princesses! Etc.) Plus, you can chew the scenery with a will, secure in the knowledge that soon the NPC will get shuffled offstage and you can get back to playing your PC.

Still, troupe style play is not a perfect tool. It has its problems, and these may make it less than optimal for any given game or gaming group. It takes time to get players up to speed with the NPCs they’ll be running, and players that like to partition in-character and out-of-character information won’t be happy if they gain OOC knowledge from those briefings. It can be difficult to keep some players on track when running NPCs; they may end up chewing the scenery or being inappropriate helpful to the other PCs. And as bad as it is to lose an ongoing PC when a player leaves the group, it’s even more disruptive in a troupe-style game because all the recurring NPCs they ran will have to be adopted by other players or removed from the game.

Have you experimented with this sort of troupe-style play? If so, I’d love to hear how it worked out for you!

Why Session Summaries are Awesome

Scriptorium Monk at WorkLots of players and Storytellers record the events of game sessions. You can read thousands of actual play write-ups online. Indeed, many gaming forums have entire sub-forums dedicated solely to posting session summaries.

Why are session summaries useful? They can seem indulgent, whether because you’re tying down stories to a page when the real fun lies in playing them out, or because you’re seeking acclaim from readers online. But they serve a useful purpose for your play group.

Session summaries help the Storyteller and the players remember what’s happened in the game. After a while, it’s easy to lose track of plot threads and minor characters—What was the name of that random guardsman who’s marrying the Dawn’s daughter? Which parts of the ruined manse did the PCs explore? Where exactly did the Twilight stash the Soulbreaker Orb during Limit Break?

Worse, without a record of events, the Storyteller can misremember key plot points, only to realize that she’s painted herself into a corner once everyone involved pools their recollections, revealing that characters have acted uncharacteristically or progressed with schemes that make no sense once the full context of events is recalled—Why did the Mask of Winters let the Circle pass through Thorns without confiscating the jade casket he’d been hunting for the entire chronicle? Life in Great Forks has seemed normal for the past two sessions; shouldn’t it be full of refugees after the PCs burned Nexus to the ground three sessions ago? The Zenith’s demon hunter retainer finally Exalted as a Lunar a few sessions back; hey, I just remembered that she was actually a Dragon-Blood in disguise! Working your way out of a jam like this can lead to some really cool plot twists and entertaining storytelling, but it risks breaking immersion for Storyteller and players alike.

Aside from all that, summaries provide a shared context for play. It’s kind of like how, once you see the movie version of a book, you tend to visualize the book character as the actor from the movie. But where book readers maintain their own private visions, RPG players share an imaginary space with the rest of the group. If everyone reads the session summaries, the shared imaginary space gains texture and solidity as every player remembers events through the filter of the summaries’ writer.

This last reason is good cause to go the extra mile and elaborate on the story with sensory and cultural detail that wasn’t necessarily spelled out during actual play—What does the architecture look like here? What sort of clothing do people wear; what food do they eat? How do people greet one another? In what regard do they hold their rulers, their cosmopolitan kin in the capital, or foreigners who’ve settled in their lands? If the players are reading the summaries, they’ll soak up setting information there that they might not otherwise be aware of. This will make the setting feel more real and help ensure that everyone’s on the same page in terms of how the setting works and where the PCs fit into it.

Of course, there are limits to the utility of session summaries. Taking notes on what happened in the session shouldn’t be allowed to interfere with involvement in actual play, and a Storyteller with limited leisure time (which is just about every Storyteller!) should prioritize preparation for the next session over writing up the events of the previous one. But beyond these obvious issues, I think the value of session summaries is clear. Share your gaming experiences with your players—and after that, why not with the world?

Ink Monkey Bones #10: The Conquered Sun

Here’s a unique entity that I wrote for Compass of Celestial Directions: Malfeas. It got through my final rewriting pass before editorial cut it from the book for space; I’ve even heard that an illustration was commissioned and is floating around online.

I figure the poor guy is still crawling around the Demon City somewhere. Once you get past the idea that Exalted’s demons are damned souls, it’s easy to be seduced by how awesome and exotic and weird they are, to the point that you forget that by mortal standards, they can often be total dicks.


The Conquered Sun

Forged of tarnished Malfean gold, the Conquered Sun crawls through the streets of Malfeas like a dog. Were he to stand, he would rise to a height of 30 yards or more, but he cannot, for massive chains of black iron hobble him, anchored to fetters upon his ankles, wrists and throat. For a thousand years, he has crept across the Demon City, crusted with muck and filth, trailing an endless parade of laughing demons that befoul his body for sport. Ligier wrought this clockwork colossus in mockery of the Unconquered Sun, going so far as to endow him with a living soul that registers every aspect of his plight and his degradation. He serves Ligier in all things, and he has a standing order to destroy the Solar Exalted, which he will obey with horror and woe.

Motivation: Submit to the will of Ligier.

Attributes: Strength 20, Dexterity 4, Stamina 20; Charisma 6, Manipulation 1, Appearance 6; Perception 3, Intelligence 3, Wits 3

Virtues: Compassion 3, Conviction 1, Temperance 4, Valor 2

Abilities: Athletics 5, Awareness 1, Dodge 1, Integrity 5 (Obedience to Ligier +10), Linguistics (Native: Old Realm; Others: High Holy Speech) 1, Martial Arts 5, Performance 3, Presence 6, Resistance 6, War 5

Join Battle: 4

Attacks:

Punch: Speed 6, Accuracy 10, Damage 20B, Parry DV 6, Rate 6

Kick: Speed 5, Accuracy 9, Damage 23B, Parry DV 4, Rate 2

Clinch: Speed 6, Accuracy 9, Damage 20B, Parry DV —, Rate 1, Tags P

Soak: 25L/35B (Metal body, 15L/15B; Hardness: 15L/15B)

Health Levels: -0x5/-1×10/-2×15/-4×20/I

Dodge DV: 5 Willpower: 4

Essence: 4

Other Notes: While chained, the Conquered Sun suffers a -2 mobility penalty. It has automaton physiology (see The Books of Sorcery, Vol. I—Wonders of the Lost Age, pp. 96–97). Damage to its body does not heal normally and must be repaired by Ligier or some other craftsman.