Onyx Path now produces a weekly podcast, the “Onyx Pathcast,” that covers all sorts of Onyx Path business and game line stuff. In today’s podcast, they’ve interviewed me! Come have a listen, it’s pretty cool and informative.
Hey there, blog readers! Here’s a quick update on what I’m up to these days with Exalted:
Arms of the Chosen: The first book that Vance and I took on as developers is finally available for Print on Demand! I’m really looking forward to holding a copy in my hands and flipping through the physical pages.
Dragon-Blooded: What Fire Has Wrought: Vance and I have turned in the final manuscript for layout. Half of the illustrations are complete (and gorgeous!), and we’ve supplied the art team with our notes for the other half. We’ve also started working with Rich Thomas and the rest of the Onyx Path crew on preparing for the Dragon-Blooded Kickstarter. We have a whole bunch of cool stretch goals that we’re really hoping get hit!
The Realm: Vance and I have turned in our final manuscript for this as well. We’ve also approved the final version of the Blessed Isle map. We’re still working on the art notes.
Lunars: Vance is hard at work on the Lunar Charm set and associated mechanics, while I’m tinkering with setting elements. We plan to have the writing team focused primarily on Lunars while the Dragon-Blooded Kickstarter is underway.
Adversaries of the Righteous: I’m writing a chunk of this book’s characters, and am finishing up the last of my first drafts. This has been a great deal of fun — and a valuable break from months of development and editing.
That’s all for now. We’ll keep you in the loop as things move forward!
My first book as co-developer of Exalted Third Edition (along with the estimable Robert Vance) has been released today. The advance PDF of Arms of the Chosen has gone up on DriveThruRPG. We’re very excited to see everyone’s reactions!
(Apologies to readers for dropping off the map; it was a rough couple of years. I hope to provide more frequent updates when my schedule allows.)
The Randan game has wrapped up after six sessions, with the departure of Von’s player to a shack in the swamps of Oregon. Here’s a brief summary of the fourth session:
Sanrei asked Blood on the Petals whether zie knew anything about the collapse of the entrance to the demon queen’s tunnels, but could make nothing of Petals’ bland denial due to a terrible Read Intentions roll. Petals, for hir part, was growing ever more taken with Sanrei, and asked what zie could do to be more like her. Petals proved to be a humorously poor student of the art of meditation.
While gathering information, Von visits one of the city’s taverns (our ST tends to default to standard Western fantasy tropes), where two merchants were slaughtered earlier that day by a one-eyed man after they’d spoken indiscreetly about Queen Dove White Sky. Von sent a runner to fetch his Circlemates to investigate. According to eyewitnesses, the attacker—garbed as a Lintha, bearing a shining black dagger—cut the two men down in total silence, then pursued a fleeing third man out into the street. Unable to track him by sight or scent, we tried the merchants’ ship, only to find its entire crew slaughtered and its hold scuppered.
After Sanrei patched the hull and Von tasked his minions with guarding the ship, the Circle went out to a restaurant, where they interspersed their dining with loud conversation about the Queen’s supposed illicit acts and bargains with demons, in hope that the one-eyed man would attack us as well. This bore no fruit, but by the time we were done, one of Von’s men had turned up the location of the surviving merchant, who’d been seen fleeing, wounded, into an abandoned home in the city slums. Sending for a chirurgeon, we made our way there.
The merchant was still alive, although unable to communicate; he remained under the influence of the supernatural silence the one-eyed man had used during his attack, and the effect somehow extended to writing as well, with ink refusing to stick to parchment in his hands. Sanrei managed to bypass this by writing the entire alphabet on a slate and having the man point to one letter at the time—slow, but sufficient. But as we began to question him in earnest, Von’s man passed the merchant a flask of liquor that proved to be poisoned; the one-eyed man had taken the shape of Von’s retainer, and now he reverted to his own form, a caste mark made of blood appearing on his forehead as he attacked.
The fight was brief. Von moved immediately to save the merchant; Sanrei attacked, but lost the clash and was wounded; and Petals struck the one-eyed man down, her magic hand-cymbals leaving him bleeding from ears and nose. Sanrei bound the now-revealed deathknight by molding the poisoned flask into manacles, and we hauled him and the merchant—both still unconscious—to Von’s own ship. To keep the deathknight prisoner until he was ready for interrogation, Sanrei encased him in a six-foot porcelain vase, its interior containing a spiked mechanism ready to snap shut on him should he try and break free. Sadly, this proved useless, as he vanished the next day, apparently teleporting via shadows to escape. Further tracking led us to a chirurgeon who’d treated his wounds, after which a man matching the Perfumed Man’s description retrieved him.
Petals remains a combat powerhouse. I suspect that when zie hit as hard as zie did against the deathknight, it’s because the player how decisive damage works and applied Graceful Reed Dancing to the damage roll, insofar as we had to explain the rule to him during session 6. But in general, hir homebrew Artifact weapon’s use of Performance instead of a normal combat Ability has been rather broken.
Social Abilities remain important for everyone. Resolve and Guile are always relevant, and no matter your focus on other fields, you’ll want to take social influence actions every once in a while.
Accumulating silver Craft XP is pretty easy! I managed it even with a relatively hard-to-apply craft like pottery. Note that it’s helpful to be well-known to others and to get along well with the rest of your Circle, as these things help you hit your basic objectives; I didn’t have either, and that made for slower going. On the other hand, Craftsman Needs No Tools is immensely helpful, opening up opportunities to use crafting “in the field” amid other activities.
Having just played session 4 of the Randan game, this seems like a good time to post a summary of the third session. Von Der’Harr’s player is moving across the country in a few weeks, so this is his last hurrah in our gaming group; we’ll miss him.
Anyway, to summarize:
A palace functionary, Iron-Under-Hammer, visited Blood on the Petals to investigate the recent battle in her pagoda, and to corroborate rumors of demonology—especially in the wake of our raid on the Potters’ Lodge, where the explosion had been spun by the palace as the Aokis’ very flesh having been impregnated with infernal powers. Petals proclaimed her innocence, then followed her usual modus operandi of enthralling Iron-Under-Hammer and his military escort with a seductive dance. She went on to invent a tale about how Yueh Strife had threatened her with demonic attack, and though she did not wholly persuade him, he left the pagoda uncertain of the truth.
After an interlude wherein Von Der’Harr discovered that his aide, Vince Smar, was actually a First Age automaton (with a cigarette lighter built into his forefinger, no less), Von sought an audience with Randan’s chief craft-goddess, White-Hot Hammer. After browbeating his way past the goddess’ priests, he bargained with her for her aid in constructing a ship whose hull fuses together wood, metal, and ceramic. Such was Von’s skill with bargaining and fine print that he easily obtained satisfactory terms. (Sadly, I don’t recall the details; hopefully Von’s player will chime in at some point.)
For her part, Sanrei spent some time investigating the palace functionaries involved in the plot against her family—including retired prime minister Soaking-Up-the-Moon, who had spent the past few months out of favor and heavily intoxicated, and ambitious courtier Apple-From-the-Tree—and attempting to establish ties with surviving Aoki cousins. Other than that, her time was largely spent on crafting projects, from repairing the damage to Petals’ pagoda to making ceramic hull sheeting for Von’s mystery ship.
After a few days had passed, Von gathered his fellow Solars to explore an underground labyrinth his men had stumbled upon while digging beneath one of their hideouts. After an hour of exploration, they were ambushed by an ape demon. But Sanrei was too alert to be caught unawares, and she lopped off the beast’s arm with a single stroke before it could even act. (Full Awareness Excellency + Sensory Acuity Prana for 15 starting Initiative, going straight into a decisive attack using Shining Starfall Execution for 9 health levels of damage.)
While the maimed demon was off-balance, Von persuaded it to join his ship’s crew. It then explained that it was part of the entourage of a more powerful demon that dwelt at the heart of the labyrinth, and agreed to lead us there. This proved to be Alveua, Keeper of the Forge of Night, one of the three demon queens of Randanese fable, caged by sorcery in a cavern amid a dozen lesser demons . After the demoness and Sanrei exchanged a few idle threats, Petals once again broke out the sexy dancing to seduce Alveua, then negotiated a pact whereby neither of the two would attack the other or any of the other’s friends. We then departed, though Sanrei lingered a bit to say that while she would slay the demon queen before allowing her to regain power in Randan, freedom outside of Randan might be arranged in exchange for knowledge of Alveua’s secrets of demonic forgecraft.
After our departure, Von returned to the temple of the White-Hot Hammer, where he informed the goddess of the demon queen’s presence and location beneath the city. The next morning, Sanrei visited the hideout to venture underground again, only to discover that the stairwell into the depths had been collapsed as though by a localized earthquake. Clearly, the untrustworthy Blood on the Petals was responsible for this…
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.
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.
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.
Appearance 7 (base 5; raised by committed Charms)
Athletics (dancing) 4
Dodge (dancing) 5
Investigation (contacts) 2
Linguistics (poetry) 3
Martial Arts 0
Presence (seduction) 5
Artifact (orichalcum-and-scrimshaw zills) •••
Familiar (Attar of Rose, talking monkey of Halta) •••
Language (Old Realm) •
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.”
Monkey Leap Technique
Reed in the Wind
Dust Motes Whirling
Masterful Performance Exercise
Graceful Reed Dancing
Thousand Courtesan Ways*
Celestial Bliss Trick
Harmonious Presence Meditation
Majestic Radiant Presence
Threefold Magnetic Ardor
Awakened Carnal Demiurge*
Rose-Lipped Seduction Style
Mastery of Small Manners
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?”
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.
Martial Arts 0
Command (Pirates) ••
Contact (Government Aid) •
Contact (Blacksmiths Artisan) •
Followers (Dock Workers) •
Followers (Merchants) •
Influence (Randan) ••
Retainer (Vince Smar, former associate, bodyguard) ••••
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)
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
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])
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.
In 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.