Arms of the Chosen

Arms of the Chosen

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.)

Arms of the Chosen Playtest #7

ronald_reagan_riding_a_velociraptor_by_sharpwriter-d55rsh7In our most recent playtest—split up over two sessions—we followed the Night Caste bounty hunter named, um, Hunter, and his Eclipse Caste younger brother Scep on their caravan trip into the jungles southeast of the Scavenger Lands. There, instead of encountering the tyrant lizards they’d been hired to hunt down, the caravan was ambushed by a pack of claw striders. And as Scep’s player had to leave early, we swapped in Shane’s Eclipse Caste, Icas, from the previous Arms playtests.

The encounter was quick and brutal, as a single battle group of claw striders was no match for a combat-heavy Solar (plus limited backup from a combat-light Solar). Within moments, half the striders were torn to ribbons and Hunter was chasing them down through the jungle while whooping cheerily, drenched from head to toe in dinosaur blood.

At this point, the Storyteller, having been somewhat confused by the language in the relatively early claw strider draft, concluded that claw striders were meant to appear as individual opponents rather than in a battle group. So we decided that the first pack of striders were young and unpracticed, and that later in the day a foursome of full-grown striders would come after us. This proved to be a much fiercer battle.

Jiao_Long__Velociraptor_by_Tsabo6Bursting from the undergrowth, the claw striders caught Icas by surprise and pinned him to the ground, ripping and tearing at him with their needle-sharp teeth before the Solars could react. Hunter counterattacked, freeing Icas from the grapple and giving him a bit of breathing room, but the Eclipse was too badly shredded at this point to contribute effectively to the rest of the fight.

At this point, Hunter counterattacked, aided by the brief appearance—and then disappearance—of a Batman-like Zenith Caste named Cloaked Lantern. (We had another playtester show up for the session, but unfortunately he arrived late and had to leave early, so he didn’t get much of an opportunity to contribute to the battle.) After a bit of back-and-forth as he struggled for combat advantage, the Night Caste poisoned and shredded two of the striders with a barrage of Charm- and Evocation-backed attacks, and the other two fled back into the jungle.

Overall, it was a dynamic fight that seamlessly incorporated surprise and grappling. Numbers continue to tell, and a Solar with minimal combat competence is genuinely vulnerable to mundane threats without having to worry about being instantly turned into a red paste.

Arms-ish Playtest #6

My NYC playtest group managed another session a couple of weeks ago, but as that was just before I disappeared into the final stages of manuscript revision, I lacked the time and energy to post. Time to correct that! Unfortunately, I was dog-tired at the time and spent most of the session half-asleep. In addition, we didn’t actually do any weapons testing, so its value as an Arms of the Chosen playtest was questionable at best. Still, a playtest is a playtest…

We only had two players that night—myself and Chris, who had some roleplaying experience and, despite being unfamiliar with Exalted, was ready to jump in feet-first. Pat provided us with a pair of pregenerated Solar siblings. I got the older brother, Hunter, a Night Caste tracker with an inclination for violence. Chris played the younger brother, Scep, an Eclipse Caste and the face of our little two-Solar bounty hunting operation. Having just returned to Nexus after a job, Scep quickly got us another assignment: Procure tyrant lizard fangs for an ivory dealer in exchange for a sizable fee. After arranging for transit with a caravan heading southeast in ten days, we looked for ways to pass the time until then.

While Hunter spent his share of the proceeds of the pair’s latest venture on alcoholic beverage and persons of the evening, Scep decided to mix business with pleasure by seducing a wealthy older gentleman in order to loot the fellow’s home once the man passed out from an excess of drink. After pawning the man’s jewelry, he decided to make a profit on the fellow’s rich-but-archaic garments by fabricating the persona of couture prodigy Klaus Beaverhausen, and passing off the forgotten old styles as the cutting edge in Nexus fashion.

kanaya_sewing_by_sugarkins-d4gvjz6The project proved dramatically effective. Scep’s Charm-enhanced social maneuvering soon had many of the city’s movers and shakers figuratively eating out of his hand. One minor misstep involved offending a sought-after model, but after a heated lunch meeting, she set aside her animus in exchange for a role in an upcoming—and, indeed, pulled from thin air on the spur of the moment—Beaverhausen fashion show, to be held after his triumphant return to the city from his upcoming journey to the southeast. By the time the PCs departed the city, Scep had even taken on a couple of apprentice tailors as interns, arranging for them to spend the next month or two performing unpaid labor on his new fashion line to get a leg up in Nexus’ booming fashion industry.

(No, you won’t find anything about fashion shows in the 3e corebook. This was simply an instance of the Storyteller building on a player’s interest at the table.)

It was fun to watch Chris, an Exalted newbie, interact with the 3e social influence system, in which a moderately-experienced Storyteller was able to keep track of all of the rules without the player needing to know the specifics of various social actions. Chris definitely found it engaging enough that he came back for this past Thursday’s playtest, though he had to leave early and thus missed out on actual play, which covered a couple of vicious encounters with claw striders. Stay tuned for more playtest reports!

Arms of the Chosen Playtest #5

We got together a few days back to do more systems testing. This time, we had a go at mass combat. We’d already done a bit of mass combat in the third playtest session, but this time we’d have battle groups on both sides.

spartaUnfortunately, we got off to a late start. Not having enough time for an elaborate large-scale battle, we went with a relatively simple scenario. 300 elite soldiers from Scavenger Land Sparta had assembled to hold off a far larger force of mediocre-quality River Province Persians in a mountain pass. (We put 300: Rise of an Empire on the TV for background, largely because 300 itself wasn’t available on Netflix.). However, to spice things up—and to test out the command rules—we added my melee Twilight, Prince Clovis of Ysyr, to the Spartans’ side.

The engagement was short and brutal, largely due to the Solar’s involvement. As the Persians moved toward melee range, Clovis ordered them to unleash a barrage of thrown spears, which left the enemy vanguard in tatters. Clovis and the Spartans then surged forward from the mouth of the pass to take advantage of the enemy’s momentary disarray. The Solar’s blade carved a bloody swath through the enemy, leaving them ripe for the Spartan charge. Hundreds of Persians broke and fled the field, but while the overall formation wavered, the Persian officers pulled them back into line.

Clovis and the Spartans weathered the Persians’ blows with negligible casualties. They then pressed their advantage, slaughtering dozens more of the foe. The lines surged back and forth, with the Persian front unable to deal any meaningful damage to their Spartan foes. Despite their superior numbers, the Persian line wavered a third time, and this time it crumbled, the rank and file routing and scattering back the way they came.

The results of the battle paralleled those of our previous mass combat test, demonstrating that a combat-oriented Solar can quickly tear through large bodies of poorly- to moderately-trained troops, but only at a significant cost in Essence. If Clovis had merely restricted himself to his personal mote pool, the battle wouldn’t have been nearly so one-sided. In retrospect, I wish we’d played out the scenario using only the mortal contingents, as it would have allowed me to focus more on the battle group mechanics themselves. But there’s always next time!

Arms-ish Playtest #4

2012-9.25.10The latest playtest was with my ongoing Arms of the Chosen testing group, but this time we put the artifact weapons away to focus on some of the combat subsystems. This will come in handy later, insofar as various combat techniques might be used with (or against!) an artifact’s wielder.

For the first test, Pat proposed another sparring session in Scavenger Lands Sparta. This time, three heroic mortals would step into the ring, each equipped with a staff. The requirement for victory was to disarm both opponents and pick up both their staves, thus holding all three at once. Physically harming one’s opponents was forbidden.

This… well, it went poorly. The third edition combat system can do all sorts of interesting things, but this scenario isn’t among them. It was clear from the get-go that whichever fighter was ahead would get double-teamed, and without the ability to inflict permanent harm, we’d go around in circles forever.

Dropping down to two competitors didn’t improve matters much, as whoever got disarmed was able, in each instance, to retrieve the lost weapon first. While success was theoretically possible, I didn’t want to waste our limited testing time to see how long it would take. I am, however, pretty sure that the main problem was the equal mortal skill of the competitors. An Exalt should be able to accomplish this, as might a mortal hero facing a far less able fighter. And an ally would make the exercise trivial. In any case, the disarm mechanic itself is straightforward, and quite usable under less contrived circumstances.

With disarms set aside, we moved on to grappling. Again, two heroic pseudo-Spartans dueled on the field of honor. This time, my fighter fought unarmed (with improved dodging ability to make up for his lack of a parrying weapon), while Shane’s wielded spear and shield. My unarmed strikes were distinctly weaker than his sword attacks, but I caught him in a momentary grapple early on and injured him slightly. Between his wound penalty and some lucky dice rolling on my part—not to mention spending Willpower at opportune moments—I avoided taking any serious injuries for several exchanges of blows. Eventually I built up enough combat momentum to seize him in a more solid hold, which I took advantage of by raising him overhead and smashing him down through a broken pillar, fatally impaling him on the jagged stone.

Grappling turned out to be straightforward, integrating easily into the cut and thrust of melee. I can absolutely see myself resorting to grappling on occasion with a character who’s in no way dedicated to a grappling build.

Arms of the Chosen Playtest #3

We got the gang together again at Travis’ apartment. He’s a professional cook, and despite his awful hangover he whipped up some really amazing okayu for us. When we eventually got started, we picked up at the end of the previous session, with the farms behind the shrine under attack by unknown enemies.

While Icas and Ro were doing helpful things like warning the locals of the attack and trying to organize a fire brigade, Clovis went back to his room and donned his armor, because damned if he was going to charge in unarmored and get killed just to rescue a few additional farms and/or farmers. I mean, these things happen, right? By the Storyteller’s whim, all three of us managed to get organized for battle at the same time. I gave Ro a hand up so she could sit behind me on my horse, while Icas rode alongside on his magic deer.

As we descended the slope, we saw a pale, spear-wielding rider clad in furs emerge from the night and smoke, leading a horde of crudely armed and accoutered reavers. He directed his forces with orders barked in an unfamiliar tongue, punctuated by drubbings administered to those insufficiently vigorous in their pursuit of battle. At his instruction, half of his force drew swords and advanced, while the other half readied bows and sent volleys of arrows raining down on us as we approached.

From "Elric: The Balance Lost #3"

“Blood and souls! Blood and souls for my lady Mara!”

The initial charge went poorly for us. The arrow storm drained our combat momentum, as did our initial collision with the melee battle group. Spurred on by the enemy commander—who killed one of his own men to clarify the depth of his intent—the archers targeted us with another volley. Though the enemy swordsmen were caught by the barrage, wounding many, we’d lost nearly all of our combat momentum. Ro in particular had been left sufficiently vulnerable that the next volley would turn her into a pincushion.

Then Clovis unleashed his combat prowess. His sword sang as he slaughtered two dozen men in a span of seconds. Already reeling from their compatriots’ arrows, the enemy swordsmen broke before his assault and began to flee the field.

At this point, Ro unlocked one of the powers of her blade, calling forth a cloud of mist that engulfed the battle around us. Icas pulled her from Clovis’ horse onto the back of his own deer, and the two rode off into the fog to harass the archers with little fear of a concerted counteroffensive. Meanwhile, Clovis turned his horse to where he’d last seen the enemy commander, and fought his way through the archers until he reached his foe.

The end of the battle was quick and brutal. As Icas and Ro dispersed the remaining archers, Clovis laid into the enemy leader with a barrage of Charm-enhanced attacks. The effort exhausted him, however, leaving him with little willpower and absolutely no Essence.

At the end of the session, Clovis hung back at the edge of the mist while Icas escorted Ro to the battle-lines of the shrine’s priests—who had organized too late to participate in the battle—to speak to her father, who was none too pleased to discover that his daughter was Anathema. There was quite a bit of social influence bouncing around the table at that point, but I had to head home at that point and missed out on the conclusion.

The new mechanics for Clovis’ sword Evocations ran smoothly. They felt like Evocations rather than Charms, and they were cost-efficient, appealing options to spend motes on in play without stepping on the toes of the Solar Melee charmset. Only one of the low-level Evocations still needed revision, and I look forward to testing it out at our next game.

Arms of the Chosen Playtest #2

My new playtest group got together last Thursday to playtest one of the weapons I’ve written up for Arms of the Chosen. For the test, I ran my Elric knock-off, Prince Clovis of Ysyr, who I’d used in our previous Arms playtest. Clovis’ Charms are split evenly between Occult and Sorcery on the one hand, and Melee and sword Evocations on the other. His Dexterity and Melee are strong but not maxed-out. All in all, I’d say he’s about equal in combat ability to an underpowered starting Dawn.

We played out two fights between Clovis and a heroic mortal warrior armed with spear and shield, fluffed as a 300-style Spartan. (What Sparta was doing in the Scavenger Lands was never satisfactorily addressed.) In the first, a fight to the death, things played out much as one might expect in such a matchup. Clovis acted first, dumped a bunch of motes into gaining combat momentum, and soon thereafter landed a near-lethal wound that left the Spartan laden with major penalties. The mortal managed to maneuver out of close combat distance to wing Clovis with a thrown spear—protip: Athletics is important!—and was generally able to prolong the battle with several lucky rolls and lots of Willpower expenditures, but the final outcome was never in doubt.

For the second fight, Clovis faced another Spartan hero in a training exercise amid a ruined temple complex. By the terms of the fight, they fought with sheathed or blunted weapons, with the goal of “tagging” each of their opponent’s limbs. Getting tagged meant not using that limb for the rest of the fight, holding an arm behind one’s back or hopping on one leg as appropriate. While there are no explicit mechanics for such an unusual exercise in the Exalted Third Edition ruleset, the system is flexible enough that the Storyteller was able to quickly and easily generate mechanics for such hits on the fly.

This time around, despite Clovis spending a good chunk of motes to try to get an advantage at the start of the fight, the Spartan tagged his sword-arm right away with an uncannily good roll, leaving the Solar at a penalty for the rest of the encounter. The mortal then dodged away between the pillars to pelt him with spears, all while he was bleeding motes to make up for his ongoing penalties. Things would have gone poorly had the Spartan not made a tactical error; he pulled farther back from the fight because he expected Clovis to try and close to melee. Meanwhile, the Solar was also withdrawing in order to catch his breath and regain motes. By the time they were back in combat range, Clovis had refilled his mote pool and was able to tag all of the Spartan’s limbs in quick succession with a barrage of Charm- and Evocation-laden attacks.

Most of Clovis’ motes were spent on Melee Charms, as I quickly discovered that while my weapon’s mechanics were engaging in the way that I’d hoped, the low-level Evocations I’d bought for Clovis were slightly overcosted, and based too heavily on interactions with high-level Evocations rather than on their own merits. I rewrote them from the ground up for the next playtest, which I’ll discuss in another post.

All in all, this worked out both as I’d expected and hoped. Skilled mortals can challenge the Exalted, but they require some combination of cleverness, luck, and/or situational advantages to win. Meanwhile, the Exalt’s odds vary heavily based on how much of his personal resources he’s willing to commit to the fight. My chances of achieving a quick, clean victory would have improved if I’d spent more motes and Willpower, but in treating these tests as actual encounters rather than white-room simulations, I deemed it important to withhold some of my resources in case the Storyteller had additional threats waiting in the wings.

(Almost) Playtesting Arms of the Chosen

As noted in a recent post, my friend Pat—one of the Marst Chronicle players—has volunteered to act as Storyteller so I can get some playtesting in from the players’ side of the screen. He’s decided to run an actual ongoing game; this limits the amount of straight-up playtesting involved, but it also means I get to try things out in the context of actual play, which has its own benefits.

We started off the first session by finishing up character creation. Travis played Sinkakusha Ro, a Twilight shrine maiden based on Sailor Mars; I played Prince Clovis of Ysyr, a Twilight sorcerer-swordsman based loosely on Elric of Melniboné, and Shane played Icas, a waifish, deer-riding Eclipse who was apparently the same character he’d been playing in an Exalted Second Edition / Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition crossover set in the 4e default setting. (Don’t ask.)

After riding away from a lynch mob of enraged villagers (“I am a doomed prince, no one understands me”), I encountered Icas in the woods, with whom I chatted and traded social influence attempts. We then rode together toward a nearby source of weirdly comforting emanations, which turned out to be Ro’s family shrine. I spent a lot of time watching the other two PCs flirt with each other over dinner (and swapped Attribute points to raise Appearance to 4 so I wouldn’t be left out), then snuck into Ro’s room to verify that her weird giant umbrella had actually concealed a daiklave. The session ended with the farming village behind the shrine under attack by bandits. Next session: the stabbity!

For your entertainment, here’s a photo from the session:

Arms of the Chosen playtest photo

That’s Pat on the left and Travis on the right. Shane was sitting to my immediate left; he’s not visible here, but you can see his character sheet. The sheets aren’t official; they were put together by a playtester from another group. They look nice, though!