Month: November 2015

Exalted 3e: Holden on Demon Summoning

Holden Shearer wrote an informative forum post about demon summoning in Exalted some time back, illustrating how a demon’s alien mentality can be troublesome without invalidating either its loyalty to the summoner or its utility for its designated tasks. A revised version of the post was slated for inclusion in the Third Edition corebook as a sidebar. This was cut for space, but fortunately, Holden has given me permission to republish the original forum post here. I hope you find it useful!


Demon summoning isn’t a trap, a Faustian bargain, or a surefire path to corruption. Most sorcerers view it as an easy source of supernatural slave labor, and for the most part, they’re right. A bound demon follows both the letter and spirit of the sorcerer’s commands to the best of its will and understanding. The greatest difficulty faced by most demon summoners is coping with the alien natures and inhuman desires of their bound retinue, making it important to choose the right demon for any given task.

Example: Lord Sky of Urim calls to a pair of bound blood-apes and says, “The city is not safe, and my people are watched. I must send my son to Chiaroscuro, to dwell with my ally Prince Nahim of the Seven Pearls, until the current troubles are over. Yet were I to send him out escorted by my men, his guards would surely be ambushed along the road and he would be taken hostage or slain. Smuggle him out of the city tonight, and see him safely to the door of Prince Nahim in Chiaroscuro.”

The blood-apes understand that Lord Sky values his son, and that their job is to see him safely into the care of Prince Nahim. Lord Sky can rest assured they’re not going to devour or beat his son for annoying them along the way. They also understand not to leave his son unattended on Prince Nahim’s literal doorstep.

But… they’re blood-apes. They’re crude, vicious, stupid brutes with little understanding of children, summoned up from the depths of Hell and eager to do their master’s bidding.

It’s a coin-toss whether they’re going to realize eating the guards on the city’s postern-gate will to leave a suspicious trail. Assuming they think that far ahead, they may well decide to smuggle the child out through the sewers—they’ll find the muck and stink comfortable and homey, after all. Then they’re going to negotiate the best stealthy journey to Chiaroscuro they can. This is apt to involve lots of off-road travel with Lord Sky’s son clinging to the matted, stinking fur of a blood-ape’s back as it goes loping through hilly light forest and broken foothills to avoid the major roads—and he’s only going on the demon’s back once they realize he can’t keep the pace they want to set on foot without breaking his legs in the dark or collapsing from fatigue. The child will almost certainly see his two guards kill any loners or small groups that spot them along their journey in the interests of secrecy and security (and also because they’re bored and hungry). The blood-apes are likely to offer him a haunch of whoever it is they’re eating after they conduct these security operations, because Lord Sky favors his child, and the demons, as his genuinely loyal servants, will try to be polite. They’re not going to understand all his whining and complaints along the way. They won’t raise a hand to the child, as they understand he’s not to be harmed, but they’re going to lose their patience and bellow at him periodically. Once they hit Chiaroscuro, assuming they manage to make it there without any kind of major catastrophe befalling the group, there’s going to be some trouble if Lord Sky neglected to tell them how to find Prince Nahim’s residence in the city, as a blood-ape’s idea of asking for directions involves lots of death-threats and biting skulls open.

Lord Sky would do well to send a trusted lieutenant or a smarter demon along to manage the expedition. The two blood-apes can get the job done, and they will mercilessly kill anything that threatens his son if it’s within their power to do so, but when they’re not fighting to protect him, blood-apes make for incredibly poor, trauma-inducing nannies.

Randan Chronicle: Session #2

Having learned that the Yuehs had arranged to sell the remains of the Aokis to the Perfumed Man out of Skullstone, we determined to sell the bodies of Madame Yueh and her husband instead, letting them suffer whatever posthumous fate they’d bargained for Sanrei’s kin. So at midnight the night of the attack on the Potter’s Lodge, Von and Petals led a handful of Von’s men—laden with the aforementioned Yueh corpses—to an isolated pier. Sanrei watched from cover with her sword at the ready, her senses supernaturally sharpened.

A violet mist, fragrant with strange perfume, floated in from the sea. Dispersing, it revealed a man in greatcoat and tricorn hat, surrounded by zombie bodyguards tangled with kelp and dripping with seawater. After Von negotiated the sale of the corpses—to be taken to Skullstone for unknown but doubtless sinister purposes—Petals proceeded to seduce the Perfumed Man with a dance. He demurred at joining hir immediately in hir pagoda, but stated an interest in a future visit. The mist then rolled back in, and beneath its cover the Perfumed Man and his entourage vanished into the sea.

Over the next few days, Von invested the money from the sale into various legal businesses, and began investigating certain corrupt palace officials as a favor for Sanrei. The Twlight began reaching out to various Aoki cousins that had survived the Yueh purge, and started work on a series of long sheets of ceramic—apparently for some sort of exotic seagoing vessel—to repay Von for his aid. And Petals immersed herself in practice with her artifact zills, in order to tap more deeply into their magic.

In the night, as Petals practiced on the second floor of her pagoda, the Perfumed Man came to her. There he spoke of his desire for hir in florid, morbid terms—that he would strip hir of hir flesh to make her “perfect” and bring hir back with him to Skullstone. When zie laughingly rejected this proposal, his zombie entourage began clambering in through the pagoda’s windows.

Fortunately, the other Solars were in the vicinity. Sanrei had been practicing her pottery work on the floor above. As the attack began, she leapt down from above and struck a killing blow at the Perfumed Man, only for it to pass harmlessly through him—he was a ghost, intangible, beyond the reach of mundane blades. But he was likewise unable to strike back, until he flowed into the body of the largest zombie, to control it like a puppet.

As Petals danced and clashed her zills in scything waves of sound that drove back the nearest undead, Sanrei called on the power of the Talisman of Ten Thousand Eyes that she wore at her throat. Rays of scarlet light flared across the city skyline as she shaped a spell in an instant, hurling a wave of obsidian butterflies that tore much of the zombies’ flesh from their bones and blasted a hole in the side of the pagoda.

The fight devolved into a melee, with the Solars surrounded by the dead. But Von had been nearby when sorcerous light blazed from the pagoda, and racing to the scene, he charged up the stairs and into the fray, bull-rushing the Perfumed Man’s corpse-body right out the hole in the pagoda wall. Departing the broken corpse, the ghost fled toward the harbor with Von in pursuit, eventually vanishing beneath the waves. The zombie bodyguards followed mindlessly, falling out the hole in the pagoda wall and lurching away, while Sanrei gave chase and cut them down.

Combat took a little over an hour to resolve, occupying a good chunk of a rather short session. Much of the time taken was due to getting up to speed with the rules, and I expect simple combats to go more quickly in future.

The Storyteller hadn’t yet read the battle group rules, and he decided to run the zombie bodyguards individually instead. The individual zombies were a persistent nuisance, capable of the occasional successful withering attack due to good rolling on the Storyteller’s part, but unable to follow through with successful decisives. They might actually have been more effective as a battle group, with the Perfumed Man standing back and boosting their dice pool with Order actions.

Randan Chronicle: Blood on the Petals, Eclipse

Here’s our final Solar PC in the Randan game. Blood on the Petals’ player, Dave, is a veteran roleplayer, author, and fantasy/horror aficionado, but had never played a White Wolf/Onyx Path game before. He decided to avoid combat and focus on social influence, and despite no experience with the system he was able to build a powerful social character from the get-go. An Appearance-driven PC is quite effective at seduction and other straightforward, emotion-driven effects. The ST also allowed Dave to take a homebrew artifact weapon that uses Performance, which isn’t something I’d recommend, but it hasn’t broken anything at the table so far.

Blood on the Petals has so far been rather passive in terms of personal goals and ambitions. But that actually works well in a group with more driven PCs, who can push the story forward while leaving less active PCs scope in which to support their peers while running small, more personal side scenes surrounding their own interests.


ATTRIBUTES

Strength 1
Dexterity 5
Stamina 3

Charisma 4
Manipulation 2
Appearance 7 (base 5; raised by committed Charms)

Perception 4
Intelligence 2
Wits 3

ABILITIES

Archery 0
Athletics (dancing) 4
Awareness 0
Brawl 0
Bureaucracy 1
Craft 0
Dodge (dancing) 5
Integrity 0
Investigation (contacts) 2
Larceny 0
Linguistics (poetry) 3
Lore 0
Martial Arts 0
Medicine 0
Melee 0
Occult 0
Performance 5
Presence (seduction) 5
Resistance 0
Ride 2
Sail 3
Socialize 3
Stealth 0
Survival 0
Thrown 0
War 0

MERITS

Artifact (orichalcum-and-scrimshaw zills) •••
Contacts •
Familiar (Attar of Rose, talking monkey of Halta) •••
Influence ••
Language (Old Realm) •

INTIMACIES

Defining Tie: Familiar (Secretly Terrifying)

Major Tie: Pirate Captain Client (Friendship)
Major Tie: Local Priest (Enemy, Respect)

Major Principle: “Those who love me are contemptible.”

CHARMS

Monkey Leap Technique

Reed in the Wind
Dust Motes Whirling

Masterful Performance Exercise
Graceful Reed Dancing
Battle-Dancer Method
Thousand Courtesan Ways*
Celestial Bliss Trick

Harmonious Presence Meditation
Listener-Swaying Argument
Majestic Radiant Presence
Threefold Magnetic Ardor
Awakened Carnal Demiurge*
Rose-Lipped Seduction Style

Mastery of Small Manners

*Committed Charms

OTHER ATTRIBUTES
Willpower 5
Essence 1

Personal 13
Peripheral 23
Committed 10

BACKGROUND

Blood on the Petals shares their history with no one. “How could such things matter? The now is eternal. The now is here, with us, beneath this silken net.” What is known is that they arrived in Randan a year ago and immediately took up residence in a fretwork pagoda overlooking the harbor. Ineffably beautiful, irresistibly alluring, they have become a fixture of Randan culture, one of the jewels of the city. Their client list ranges from the low to the highest, with men, women, and tya of the city visiting the pagoda openly and without shame. Their prices may be exorbitant, but one never haggles with a courtesan of this evident quality.

Blood on the Petals seems to have no motivation other than the cultivation of their own beauty and encouraging the appreciation of their radiance. Yet at night, under the tent of the stars, their monkey Attar of Rose whispers of other things, of destinies unfulfilled and of what their beauty might mean to the world. Mostly, Blood on the Petals simply rolls over on their mat and closes their eyes. “Speak to me no more of the future,” they beseech. “The now is here, the now is with us. Can this not be enough?”

Randan Chronicle: Von Der’Harr, Night

Here’s the second PC from the Randan Chronicle, my group’s ongoing Ex3 game. His player, Jeff, was familiar with Second Edition and has been quick to pick up the new rules. Von was originally intended to be a Brawl monster, but Jeff found himself so enthralled by Bureaucracy, Larceny, Sail and Socialize that he completely neglected combat. But as neither of the other PCs focused heavily on combat, it hasn’t left him too far behind, especially with various hirelings and followers at his command.


ATTRIBUTES

Strength 2
Dexterity 4
Stamina 5

Charisma 5
Manipulation 1
Appearance 1

Perception 3
Intelligence 2
Wits 4

ABILITIES

Archery 0
Athletics 0
Awareness 3
Brawl 0
Bureaucracy 5
Craft 0
Dodge 0
Integrity 3
Investigation 5
Larceny 5
Linguistics 0
Lore 0
Martial Arts 0
Medicine 0
Melee 0
Occult 0
Performance 0
Presence 0
Resistance 3
Ride 0
Sail 5
Socialize 5
Stealth 3
Survival 0
Thrown 2
War 0

SPECIALTIES

Bureaucracy (Maritime)
Larceny (Smuggling)
Socialize (Governments)
Thrown (Knives)

MERITS

Command (Pirates) ••
Contact (Government Aid) •
Contact (Blacksmiths Artisan) •
Followers (Dock Workers) •
Followers (Merchants) •
Influence (Randan) ••
Resources ••
Retainer (Vince Smar, former associate, bodyguard) ••••

INTIMACIES

Defining Principle: “All the world is a ship, and I shall be its captain.”
Defining Tie: Corrupt Officials (Extreme Hatred)
Defining Tie: Cindy Waters (Regret)

Major Tie: Little Jack (Love of his Ship)
Major Tie: Crew of the Little Jack (Loyalty)
Major Tie: The Guild (Distrust)
Major Tie: Vince Smar(Loyalty)

Minor Tie: Aoki Sanrei (Wary Respect, Partner)
Minor Tie: Dockworkers (Respect, Loyalty)
Minor Tie: Merchants (Cautious)

Cindy Waters’ Intimacies

Defining Tie: Pirates (Hate)

Major Principle:”Loyalty to the Empress at all costs”

Minor Tie: Gleemen [as from Wheel of Time] (Admiration/Amazement)
Minor Tie: Brightwork (Hometown)

CHARMS

Salty-Dog Method – 386
Ship-Claiming Stance – 387

Shadow Over Day – 394
Guarded Thoughts Meditation – 396
Penumbra Self Meditation – 397
Inverted Ego Mask – 397
Heart-Eclipsing Shroud (Cindy Waters) – 400

Deft Officials Way – 284
Frugal Merchant Method – 283
Enlightened Discourse Method – 285

Seasoned Criminal Method – 315
Spurious Presence – 315
Preying on Uncertainty – 316
Clever Bandits Rook – 316
Flawlessly Impenetrable Disguise – 317

OTHER ATTRIBUTES

Willpower 5

Essence 1

Personal: 13
Peripheral: 21 (max 33)
Committed: 12: 3 (Guarded Thoughts Meditation), 3 (Penumbra Self Meditation [Corrupt Officials(Extreme Hatred)]), 6 (Flawlessly Impenetrable Disguise[Vince Smar/Cindy Waters])

BACKGROUND

Von began making a name for himself in legitimate business in the Southwest Archipelagos, before he was promptly betrayed by officials of the Guild, betraying him and his cargo to Lunar rebels.
He was marooned, and he made his way north to Randan, after acquiring the Little Jack and her Crew in a mutiny in which he was exalted.
He began setting up his new organization there, with aims to ensure that betrayals such that he faced never again occur.

He encountered Vince Smar, a former ally and associate of his, while working the docks and acquiring the network needed to ply his new trade.

Cindy Waters is a young woman that Von couldn’t save in the attack on his ship in the Southwest, and he took on a part of her, which he now uses to travel through Randan without attracting the notice of Guild officials.

Exalted 3e: Of Bandits and Oratory

Schnorr_von_Carolsfeld_Bibel_in_Bildern_1860_080In this thread about Ex3 social influence on the Onyx Path Exalted forum, discussion turned to the question of how one goes about persuading a group of bandits to give up their life of maraudery and go straight. The examples dealt with the mechanics of Instilling various Intimacies to accomplish that goal. But this is very much a “white room” approach to the situation. Exalted thrives on context, not abstraction.

It’s important to remember that bandits are people, too. They aren’t just blank slates waiting to be programmed with Intimacies! So you have to look at them in context. Ordinary farmers don’t just look up from their plows one day and say, “Gee, banditry sounds like a good career option, maybe I’ll do that instead.” So why are the bandits here, doing what they do?

Some may be temperamentally unsuited for “honest labor,” perhaps due to a hot temper, drug addiction, or some conflicting deep-seated belief that might be expressed as a Major or Defining Principle of “Honest work is a mug’s game” or “Violence is the only thing I’m good at.”

Others have been uprooted from their homes by war, banditry, taxes, debts, natural disasters, or familial repudiation. Without wealth and support, they can’t establish themselves as independent freewomen, but must instead search for menial work—either paid, which risks the work drying up and leaving them vagabonds, assuming jobs are available at all; or some form of serfdom or thralldom. Those who’ve joined bandit bands are those unwilling to accept such a life, suggesting Major or Defining Principles such as “Better to steal than to starve” or “Better to die free than live in bondage.”

Those who have committed crimes—including illegal acts that the PCs may not see as immoral—are in worse straits. Openly rejoining local society is impossible; doing so under an assumed identity still risks eventual exposure; and to travel alone over long distances—especially in an area that is, by definition, plagued by bandits—means taking one’s life into one’s hands. And they, along with those who have voluntarily left their old lives to escape the consequences of legal but heart-wrenching decisions or situations, may feel themselves unable to rejoin, or unworthy of rejoining, civil society.

And some bandits will be driven by personal causes. Many are dispossessed persons driven by hatred of those who wronged them, such as tax collectors, foreign soldiers, or a rival bandit gang. Others may have joined the band for other reasons, only to be enthralled by a charismatic leader or forge bonds strong as blood with their sword-sisters in the band.

Obviously, a Storyteller isn’t going to invent a distinct background and personality for every member of a hundred-strong bandit gang. But thinking about these elements in regard to dealing with bandits—or, indeed, any other “background” character—provides mechanical support for the social influence system while simultaneously providing depth and texture to NPCs and the world in which they live.

Randan Chronicle: Session #1

So, a quick summary of the first session of my first post-Kickstarter-PDF Ex3 game.

Note that the table’s mood seesaws quite a bit between immersive and game-y. This is partly because we’re still getting used to the system and sometimes need to focus on rules at the expense of atmosphere, which should smooth out over time. But it’s mostly because we’ve been playing a somewhat goofy beer-and-pretzels D&D for six years now. Also, the rest of the group is self-admittedly poor at naming NPCs, which is where we get NPC names like “His Holiness Mouth-of-the-Fish,” “Yueh Pork-on-Water,” and “Vince Smar.”

Anyway! The game is set in the city of Randan, on the islet of Randan amidst the river Randan, flowing from the highlands of the great Western island Randan. (See the previous note about issues with names.) Aoki Sanrei, Twilight Caste sorcerer-swordswoman of the Potter’s Lodge, was returning to her homeland aboard the vessel of Night Caste smuggler-prince Von Der’Harr. On landing, they learned that Sanrei’s dead family had been killed on order from the royal palace for purported meddling with demonology (which was news to me), and that their bodies were going to be cremated inside ceramic coffins and thrown from the cliffs in a shaming ritual that very night. Sanrei cut a deal with Von that he would help her recover the bodies in exchange for free rein to loot the halls of the Potter’s Lodge proper.

For assistance in gathering information and infiltrating the Lodge, they visited the ornate pagoda of Blood on the Petals, the city’s most beautiful courtesan—and, though they didn’t know it, also an Eclipse Caste Solar (and the third player character). Together they hatched an unnecessarily overelaborate plan involving forgery, disguise, seduction, and a couple of barrels of firedust.

Von led the crew in disguise as a grandee of the Potter’s Lodge, bearing a tablet of authority crafted by Sanrei. He was accompanied by his bodyguard, the sea-spirit Vince Smar. Sanrei and her cousin Kumanni, both clad as members of Randan’s caste of mysterious, masked street-cleaners; and several crew members carrying long boxes. They opened one box to show the Lodge guardians a selection of extraordinary ceramics—knocked together by Sanrei in an afternoon—that were ostensibly a gift for the Lodge. The other boxes contained fresh human remains (I don’t know where Von obtained them) to substitute for the dead Aokis, their body cavities packed with firedust. Finding the ceramic coffins in which the Aokis were stored, we replaced the bodies and resealed the coffins.

Meanwhile, Blood on the Petals enthralled the Yueh elders with her dancing, then drew Madame Yueh’s husband, Pork-on-Water(!), away from the bulk of the Lodge’s residents and kept him entranced until Sanrei could arrive from her other tasks. Petals persuaded Pork-on-Water that a threesome with the “street cleaner” would be delightfully decadent, then left the other two alone in the Yueh elder’s chambers so that Sanrei could unmask, intimidate the man into revealing intimate details of the plot against the Aoki family, then terrify him so thoroughly that he died of fright.

Petals and Sanrei repeated the process with Madame Yueh, isolating her in a basement workshop, where Sanrei extracted further information on the plot and the location of her kinfolk’s bodies in exchange for agreeing to let the Yueh elder live, then immediately breaking her word by throwing the old woman into a fiery kiln. Meanwhile, Petals climbed to the roof to observe the shaming ritual, at the height of which the ceramic coffins—heated to cremate the remains within—exploded from the firedust stored inside them, sending shrapnel through the crowd and signaling Von’s men to start looting amid the resulting chaos. While those inside the Lodge seized every valuable in sight, several dozen more henchmen outside incited the people to riot, preventing Lodge and palace troops from intervening effectively.

Sanrei came away from the attack with the names of the remaining conspirators—the master swordsman Strife Yueh; three palace functionaries; and the mysterious Perfumed Man, who had kicked off the plot by offering to purchase the bodies of the Aokis and bring them to his masters in Skullstone. Von raked in a sizable amount of wealth for himself and his crew. And Petals’ seductions in the Lodge had garnered her four gorgeous masterwork pots, which she spent the wee hours of the morning arranging in her pagoda’s foyer.

We spent a good bit of the session playing around with the social influence system and adjusting Intimacies. At the end, everyone got a full suite of Solar XP, which was good. I’m usually averse to variable XP systems, as I hate being left behind or seeing someone else left behind, but that’s not an issue in Ex3 because the rewards aren’t zero-sum.

Randan Chronicle: Aoki Sanrei, Twilight

With the release of the Exalted 3e Kickstarter backer PDF, I’ve persuaded my D&D group to try the game for a while. One of my fellow players is also an Exalted fan, and he’s going to run a game set in the Western port of Randan. Last Wednesday we met for initial play discussion and character creation, and we should have our first session this Sunday.

The other PCs are Von Der’harr, a Night Caste smuggler with greater ambitions; and Blood on the Petals, a weirdly neomah-like Eclipse Caste courtesan. My own PC, the warrior-artisan Aoki Sanrei, is detailed below. Aside from the utility of seeing other players’ initial stat blocks, I hope Exalted fans will be happy to see a glimpse of one of the many new spots on the map that we didn’t have room to write up in the core book.


ATTRIBUTES
Strength 2
Dexterity 4
Stamina 3

Charisma 2
Manipulation 2
Appearance 4

Perception 4
Intelligence 4
Wits 3

ABILITIES
Archery 0
Athletics 2
Awareness 3
Brawl 1
Bureaucracy 1
Craft (Pottery) 5
Dodge 3
Integrity 2
Investigation 1
Larceny 0
Linguistics 1
Lore 2
Martial Arts 4
Medicine 0
Melee 0
Occult 4
Performance 1
Presence 3
Resistance 2
Ride 0
Sail 1
Socialize 2
Stealth 1
Survival 0
Thrown 0
War 0

SPECIALTIES
Awareness (Ambushes)
Bureaucracy (Evaluate Goods)
Martial Arts (One-on-One)
Occult (Sorcery)

MERITS
Familiar (Neph-Chebar, the Hellwind) •••
Language (Old Realm) •
Martial Arts ••••
Retainer (Kumanni, an adopted cousin) ••

INTIMACIES
Defining Tie: The One-Eyed Man (Hate)
Defining Tie: The Yueh Family (Hate)
Major Tie: Her husband (Feelings of betrayal)
Major Tie: Her young son (Fear for his safety)
Major Tie: Kumanni (Trust)
Major Principle: “Making beautiful things brings me joy.”
Minor Tie: Von Der’harr (Wary Respect)
Minor Principle: “The Potter’s Lodge is my birthright.”
Minor Principle: “I will make my enemies suffer.”

CHARMS
Sensory Acuity Prana
Surprise Anticipation Method

Craftsman Needs No Tools
Durability-Enhancing Technique
Flawless Handiwork Method [x2]
Supreme Masterwork Focus

Terrestrial Circle Sorcery

Harmonious Presence Meditation
Tiger’s Dread Symmetry

Durability of Oak Meditation
Ox-Body Technique

Gathering Light Concentration
Shining Starfall Execution

SORCERY
Initiation: The Talisman of Ten Thousand Eyes

Spells: Death of Obsidian Butterflies [control], Demon of the First Circle

OTHER ATTRIBUTES
WILLPOWER 6
ESSENCE 1

Personal: 13
Peripheral: 26 (max 33)
Committed: 7 (Harmonious Presence Meditation)

BACKGROUND
Raised in the Potter’s Lodge of the warrior-artisan aristocracy of Randan, Aoki Sanrei barely escaped the assassins that invaded the Aoki clan manor and slaughtered her kin. She only knows that the one-eyed man who led the assassins works for her mother-in-law, the head of the Yueh clan, with whom Sanrei’s husband and son were staying during the attack.

Fleeing the massacre, Sanrei and her adoptive cousin Kumanni sought refuge with family friends, only to barely escape yet another ambush—a trap set for survivors of the first. Trusting no one, the two fled by sea. As Sanrei swore a blood oath to the setting sun that she would be the architect of the Yueh clan’s doom, she Exalted. Months later, she has returned to Randan incognito to fulfill her vow.