Marst Chronicle

Marst Chronicle: Session #5

At last, a new playtest report from the Allentown group! The summary writer had this to say: “Sorry for this one taking so long, but the busy time should be over and we all look forward to getting back to more regular gaming and updates.”

When last we left our players, they had just fended off a bandit attack and discovered that something had been taken from the caravan during the fighting. Oberon Telev, in a panic, hired the PCs to find these thieves and to bring back the item that had been taken. However, he refused to part with any information regarding what that item was. So off into the woods trekked Karis, White Ink, and Bending Sky, to once more risk life and limb for the good of the caravan—or at least that is what Bending Sky claims… some of the time.

Karis took point here and began to lead the PCs through the wending woods, following the tracks left by their quarry. Using keen eyes and a skill at survival she never knew she really had, she kept the group on the tail of the thieves for many days. She found them water and shelter, and only one or twice had to double back a significant distance. In fact, only by dint of her skills did the group make it through the forest without great incident. The only notable exception was when Bending Sky turned to excitedly point out that he had found a scenic ravine, and promptly walked right off the side of it, which is hardly an incident that can be blamed on Karis’ survival skills. (As a note, I love the new falling damage rules.)

1) Social Influence – With Karis finally feeling like some ground was truly being made, our heroes came across a large clearing with a massive hole dug down into the center of it. The footprints of the thieves seemed to head into the clearing, toward the two guards standing watch near the hole.

Not wanting to alert anyone to their arrival, the group began to lay out a plan. Karis and White Ink seemed to be on the same page and began to talk about the best way to render the guards unconscious from a distance. Bending Sky had his own idea, however, and proposed that they take a little time to loosely disguise Karis and send her forward, pretending to be a wood nymph. From there, she would seduce the two guards to come closer and then the group would subdue them in a quick and up-close fashion.

White Ink saw the merits of this proposal and agreed it would make for a fine course of action. Karis, however, was having none of it and stubbornly refused to be part of this plan despite the inspiring argument made by Bending Sky. (Ah, Willpower, how you aid us all.) Not one to be deterred from what he considers a good idea, Bending Sky took a few moments to disguise himself before sauntering out into the clearing, guitar playing an enchanting tune, and attempting to convince the guards that HE was a wood nymph.

This attempt was met with only partial success, but between their confusion, curiosity, and the guards being close by, he was able to close most of the gap before they realized something was terribly wrong. (I actually forgot to use the disguise rules, but given the player of Bending Sky’s Larceny skills and the penalties he was going to accrue for this, I think it worked out just fine without it. I also view this as a positive, since a good game needs to be able to run smoothly both when mechanics are used and when they are not.)

2) Combat – This first fight with the guards was a great example of the tactical nature of the new combat engine. One side had the obvious element of surprise, exploited it well, and worked as a team to quickly accomplish their goal. (This last part may have been an accident, but it appeared to occur nonetheless.) Bending Sky went first, and with the expertise of a man trained in Tiger Style, knocked down the guard nearest to him. White Ink ran from the nearby bushes to grab the second in an iron grip, and Karis fired a bludgeoning arrow upon the now-grappled man, taking the wind out of him.

On the next turn, Bending Sky ripped the throat from the downed man and Karis rendered her opponent unconscious. (Two rounds, and combat was over. Goes to show just how important numbers, surprise, and going first are. I have a feeling that if the tables were turned and the PCs were the ones being surprised, the same thing could have happened to them, which I like.)

Karis and Bending Sky then argued about whether or not to kill the unconscious bandit. Bending Sky finally relented and said the man could live, and the three companions headed toward the large hole in the clearing. Right before arriving there, though, Bending Sky whipped the bow off his back and launched an arrow into the sleeping bandit’s throat, much to Karis’ dismay and White Ink’s disapproval. Bending Sky simply smiled and pointed out that to leave him alive would have been to invite his vengeance at some point in the future, and he for one liked to sleep soundly at night without having to worry about silly things like being murdered.

White Ink cast a long look back before frowning once, shrugging, and following Bending Sky down the sloped entrance. Karis, for her part, did not take things as well. She stayed as far from Bending Sky as she could, all the while staring daggers into his back.

At the bottom of the excavated hole was what appeared to be a massive building, tipped slightly back and away from them. It had a huge stone door that had been pushed inward, in the center of which was a large golden disk embossed with odd pictographs. After some investigating, the PCs discovered that the disk could be removed from the door and seemed to act as a key of sorts. Once removed, Bending Sky took it into his care for safekeeping. Karis discovered an opened wooden box filled with straw, which appeared to have held something heavy and circular.

Deducing that the disk was the item they had come for, the PCs decided to push on into the ancient building to see what else could be found and if anyone else was exploring it. Being the stealthiest by far, Karis carefully crept inward, making sure to always stay close to the walls and to have both handholds and footholds, since the now-tilted building sloped away from her and the middle of the stone floor offered little purchase.

She discovered a massive building with several doors going this way and that, but it was at the end of the main hallway that she found answers to her questions. What she discovered was a large room lit by only a few torches, held by three men: two guards and a robed man who was studying something on the walls and referencing a book he held in one hand. She instantly recognized the robed man as the merchant Jarrick Rill, the same one who had funded the caravan she traveled on and whose house she had recently robbed.

Her feeling of surprise, however, was quickly replaced with one of dread. As one of the men turned his torch to examine a new area, the light revealed a massive figure easily nine feet tall. Its front limbs were as round as tree trunks and long enough that it used them to walk. Spikes and spines protruded from its red-tinged hide, which was more like wire brush then fur, and a set of wicked teeth filled a mouth far larger then should have belonged on a creature even that size. As soon as she noticed it, she also smelled it. It smelled of an uncleaned butchering-room floor and appeared to still have bits from its last meal stuck in its teeth.

With great haste, Karis returned to the group to explain what she had seen, still not quite believing it herself. Much discussion was had about how to proceed, and in the end all were of like mind. This demon needed to be felled, and whatever this Jarrick Rill was up to needed to be discovered—and most likely stopped.

This plan began much like the last—sans Bending Sky trying to cross-dress—as the two with bows crept forward to gain surprise on the beast. White Ink moved forward as well, albeit slowly, as his massive armor took away what little agility he possessed. His part in this would be to defend the archers for as long as possible, while also engaging the beast directly.

When the large room and the demon within were in sight, Bending Sky and Karis fired upon it, their arrows streaking toward their foe with unerring accuracy. The beast’s hide proved thick, though, and only one arrow seemed to bother it at all; the other shattered to pieces against its unnaturally thick fur. The fighting began in earnest then, for with a stone-rattling bellow the demon began to charge up the hallway at Bending Sky, murder in its eyes and a faint red glow around its massive claws. (A [REDACTED] action victory for the Blood Ape spells bad things in Bending Sky’s future!)

Seeing the creature begin its run, White Ink charged out in front of his companions, a baritone battle cry emanating from his lips. With worried looks on their faces, both archers began to backpedal, but valor did not totally flee them as they still launched arrow after arrow after arrow at the ape as it rampaged down the hall. Some of these arrows did their work well and slowed the beast some, but more fell away off its hide like water breaking on a rock. Soon the demon was in melee range, slowed but not defeated, and the true struggle began.

The beast roared. White Ink’s greatsword flashed in the flickering torchlight. Bending Sky dropped his bow and hurled himself at the creature. Karis continued to shoot, but now it was not at the beast, but at the two guards with bows who had joined the fray at the other end of the hall. Armor and flesh were rent, blood was spilt, and the fight’s momentum went back and forth half a dozen times at least. In the end, though, the great beast fell, and when it did a slight pause filled the chamber as all around stood in awe at what had just been done. A mighty demon of Malfeas lay dead at the hands of three mortals, truly a miraculous victory if ever there was one.

In this pause the three bloodied companions looked at each other and silently nodded. At this, White Ink roared challenge once more and tore off down the hall toward the archers, his sword weeping demonic ichor as he ran. So terrifying was his visage that one archer dropped his bow entirely and stood rooted to the spot in fear (Threaten actions are awesome!). It was at this man that Karis unleashed a seemingly endless volley of arrows, and as testament to her skill, not one missed its mark.

Bending Sky, having regained his bow, traded shot for shot with the other archer—who had wisely kept his cool and his cover—before finally pausing in the middle of the hallway and slowly breathing out. As he looked back up, he stared into the other man’s very soul and uttered these words: “It is to your credit that I now must reveal who I really am. I am Hagakami, Archer Lord of the northern steppes, and member of the Red Leaf Tribe. I have never missed while donning my true name. Now, like the leaves my Tribe is named for… FALL!” An arrow then leaped from his bow, and true to his word, he did not miss and the guard did fall.

(WOW! What a fun and awesome fight. Momentum was traded back and forth numerous times, and the PCs finally got a taste of all the bad that can occur when they are in [REDACTED] and their enemies are not. It was great watching them stunt and scrape and fight for every piece of momentum they could have when they were losing. It really gave the fight an amazing, amazing feel. The defend other action also was used for the first time, and it worked well and really helped Bending Sky out. The [REDACTED] action also saw repeated use, and let me tell you, there is perhaps nothing greater then the look on a player’s face when an enemy defeats him in a [REDACTED] and he knows his only option is to kill his opponent before it gets to him, because it is the only way to stop him. All in all, simply fantastic, and I know the players were really pleased with it.)

Limping, tired and coated in blood—both others’ and their own—our heroes slowly entered the room where only Jarrick Rill now stood. Something was different now, though. The room was better-lit then they had first thought, and what was this feeling of renewed energy coursing through their limbs? That is when it took them. That was the moment when our heroes took their second breath: one from the beginning of the day, one from its absence, and one from what occurs when both day and night are present.


Marst Chronicle: Session #4

Here’s the latest from the Marst playtest group. This session covered both the social influence rules and the combat system. This time they played around with battle groups, and they seem pretty happy with how Exalted 3e handles mass combat. But I’ll let the playtest group’s Storyteller speak for himself:

When we last left our heroes they were about to enter the secluded glen of the nymph who had absconded with a villager’s daughter.

1) Social Influence System – Social Influence remains one of my favorites rules pieces I have seen thus far. The way Intimacies change the strength and power of your arguments and the way you can manipulate certain Intimacies or emotions into being so that they become useful is just awesome. I find it is very much like a warrior and his weapon. A skilled warrior with a sword is deadly, but a warrior with a daiklave is a thing of legend. The same thing goes for a courtier who knows or does not know an intimacy for the target,

As Bending Sky approached the glen, he struck up a tune on his flute. It was a light and happy melody meant to soothe and to remind its listeners of home. His music was so beautiful that it made even the nymph, a creature of beauty herself, stop and admire the minstrel’s skill. The small girl stopped her play-dance and instead grew wistful, her thoughts turning toward home and the family she had forgotten while in the nymph’s care. (The [REDACTED] action here was used to set the stage for further arguments and move the characters emotionally to a place where they were amenable to going home or finding a new home.)

From here, words spilled from Bending’s Sky’s mouth like rain from the clouds. Some of these words were spoken honestly, and others were less then truthful, but no matter their validity, each word was convincing. He presented a scheme that played on both the nymph’s loathing of the Eldest and her love of trickery. He said the great Wood King wished to wed her, for there were none more beautiful in all of his realm. He said that the King would offer her all the spoils of his kingdom, and that she could walk and play among his people to her heart’s desire. Under all this, though, was an undercurrent of slyness that the Nymph picked up on. This would put her in a position to cause him immense grief, while also getting her the things she wanted—and all for the price of a simple yes.

(The body language system was used here. It worked nicely as a way to underline words, and a combination of [REDACTED], [REDACTED] and a sort of [REDACTED] did the rest. The social back and forth was tense as both participants were skilled, and it was only the slightly better rolling by Bending Sky’s player that let him eke this one out. Stunts also played a big part here as the player did several [REDACTED] stunts in a row, which really pushed him over the top and got him back the Willpower that he needed to keep spending. It was nice, as it really made stunts feel like they were helping to define the hero and letting him accomplish difficult tasks, rather then just being a resource battery.)

Karis and White Ink both were transfixed by the nymph’s beauty. It was all they could do to not go to her. The old man in particular could only stare at her on their entire long walk home.

When finally they arrived back in Elder Pine, after many hours of traveling and Bending Sky’s persistent attempts at wooing the nymph, they went to the Eldest’s priest—and finally to the Eldest tree itself—to show what they had accomplished. It was here that Bending Sky made his boldest (and almost his most foolish) move yet. When the Eldest himself came at their call, Bending Sky presented him with the small girl who had been taken, but also with the nymph, saying that she was in awe of his might and wished to be with him for all time. The nymph—now mildly annoyed, but worried about what revealing the lie would cause—kept her mouth shut and her features smooth. Bending Sky, for his part, called upon the Eldest’s hubris to aid him in persuading the mighty Wood King of this bold lie. Thankfully for Bending Sky, the Eldest’s hubris was as large as his tree home, and with clever words and the nymph as a fine gift, Bending Sky managed to pull off his greatest lie yet.

([REDACTED] are awesome and a wonderful way to handle these types of things. I was all ready to have the Wood King laugh off Bending Sky’s attempts to sway him, when all of a sudden he didn’t have any applicable Intimacy to [REDACTED] as he had used it to [REDACTED] already. It was a tense but amazing moment as the future of the PC hung in the balance.)

With their victory achieved, the caravan received the Eldest’s blessing, and off it rolled toward its next destination, with Bending Sky singing the praises of his new friends for their fantastic deeds, which were almost as amazing as his own. A few weeks of uneventful travel later, the caravan pulled up to the city of Shimmering Blossom. Through campfire talk and some rumor-gathering, Karis found out that many of the common folk viewed the city with mistrust, for it was said that the elders of the city built it with the use of wishes and could do whatever they wished inside of it. They said it was because of this that the city needed no walls and seemed almost ethereally beautiful; that it contained many things that simply cannot exist, like trees with flowers of supple and fragrant gemstones. They also said to never wish for anything in the city, lest you become cursed and turn into one of the very blossoms for which the city gains its name.

Brimming with curiosity, though, our brave men and women did indeed go inside, both under their own volition and because they were summoned there one evening to attend a dinner held by the city elders. It seemed Master Telev had spoken highly of them and their deeds, and the elders would love to listen to their stories.

2) Investigation and Larceny Systems – We continue to use both of these subsystems, but have been unable to make them anything but awesome and fun, so nothing new to report here.

3) Combat – I introduced battle groups into the mix tonight. White Ink, Bending Sky and Karis had to fight two [REDACTED] battle groups and two more elite leaders. The combat was fun and brisk, and through Bending Sky we got to try out some Martial Arts Techniques related to Tiger Style.

The fight started out with an elite spearman absolutely crushing his [REDACTED] roll and using that combat momentum to simply murder one of the NPC guards in his path. White Ink and Bending Sky were not far behind, though. White Ink charged the small battle group of men, his greatsword rending the air. He charged because he knew he needed to disband this group as quickly as possible, for they had attacked at night and he, like his friends, was without his armor. This strategy seemed to work great, as the battle group was torn and cut by the old man. Things turned sour when, a few moments later, the battle group—not yet dispersed—counterattacked and, using its numbers to its advantage, did away with almost all of White Ink’s combat momentum in one ferocious blow.

Bending Sky joined Karis on top of a caravan and began to launch arrow after arrow at the huntmaster who was leading a battle group of trained mastiffs. His arrows struck true and the huntsman was forced off-balance, which was fortuitous for Bending Sky as this less-than-sure footing caused the huntsman’s thrown knives to score no more than a glancing blow, from which Bending Sky could easily recover. Karis, for her part, spent the first two rounds hiding her rather hefty amount of illicit monies and goods so that they could not be stolen by these bandits.

The enemy spearman continued to dance through the NPC guards, driving them back or killing them with ease. Sadly, White Ink was finding things much harder then he had expected. This group of men was well-trained, and on their next actions they both [REDACTED] together. (We all adore this mechanic, by the way. It has worked well every time it has come up, and really gives certain moments in the fight a cool feel.) Once again, the result was that the weight of numbers was too much for the old man to overcome, and without his armor to deflect their blows, steel bit deeply into his sides and arms. (“Armor is seriously useless”? LOL. Do not leave home without it, or you will end up like White Ink here—or worse. I personally think this is a cool feature that adds diversity to the game, as an armor guy without his armor should be in bad shape).

Seeing the huntmaster quickly approaching, Bending Sky flipped off the top of the caravan and, in a surprisingly quick motion, drove straight into his opponent, knocking him down and knocking the wind out of him. (Techniques are so cool, and yet again they add another layer to combat, and as will be shown, even this basic knockdown technique truly threw a pretty powerful opponent completely out of tactic and rhythm.)

The huntmaster, now badly out of position and looking like he was a few solid blows away from death, began to run back to his battle group of dogs for protection. As he did so, though, a hail of arrows came out of the darkness, seeming to materialize around him and rush forward toward his beloved hounds. Karis had finally entered the fray, and so well hidden was she while concealing her loot that the great mastiffs stood no chance of evading her, and such was the force of her attack that many hounds were slain on the spot. The rest scattered into the forest, leaving the huntmaster all alone and with Bending Sky bearing down on him.

Meanwhile, the bandit group had laid into White Ink once more and driven the old man to one knee, blood cascading down his sides from several grisly wounds. Things did not look good for the old man, and that’s when Bending Sky changed his mind. Instead of chasing down and slaughtering his huntmaster prey, he leaped over him to land amid the bandit group and, with slicing claw and ferocious rending kicks, he scattered the battle group before they could send White Ink to Lethe.

This left only the spearman and the huntmaster. White Ink, realizing he was in no shape to fight such a skilled master of the spear, grinned at Bending Sky and shot off toward the huntmaster, his typical limp seemingly gone. Aided by several arrows launched by a still-hidden Karis to guide him in certain directions, the huntmaster finally met his end pinned to a tree by White Ink’s greatsword. Bending Sky and the spearman battled back and forth, each trading blows, their place in the fight sliding back and forth several times in the span of a heartbeat. Finally a moment came, one upon which the outcome of the fight would be decided. The great combatants clashed, the spearman twirling and lunging forward, Bending Sky attempting to deflect the blow and slip inside his opponents guard. Sparks flew, heads turned, and silence took center stage for just a brief moment as all around wished to see the outcome of this final clash. When the moment passed, both men stood slightly past one another, tired yet proud. But it was the spearman who fell, his torso badly gutted by the claws of Bending Sky.

(Again, I love [REDACTED], and just the whole thing was fun. Stunts are so much more fun and integral now, as I mentioned before. A brilliant stunt at the end was the difference here, as Bending Sky only won the [REDACTED] by a success or two. I would definitely be able to just play heroic mortals in this game and have a lot of fun.)

However, this game is not just about playing heroic mortals. It is about playing the Exalted, and as such this game will soon have them. Next game, the players will be tasked with tracking down an item that was taken from the caravan during the fight. And at their task’s culmination, if their hearts are brave enough and their spirits strong enough, they will join the ranks of the Exalted.

Marst Chronicle: Session #3

Here’s the latest report from Contagion of Law designer Shane Cherry’s Pennsylvania playtest group for Exalted 3e. For this session, the group was specifically testing out various noncombat mechanics.

When we last left our heroes, they had a great burden on their shoulders. The Wood King known as the Eldest had threatened the entire caravan with death if a girl from his village was not returned to him quickly. As Karis, Mato and White Ink stood talking about where to start, the caravan master, Oberon, stepped up along with another man. Oberon said the man was a traveling monk and priest. Due to the nature of this task he felt the monk, who went by Bending Sky, would be of help. Bending Sky was not all that he appeared to be, and he had a clever tongue, a sharp wit, and a way with words that would make most courtiers green with envy.

1) Character Creation – Bending Sky’s character sheet was finished in about 20 minutes, including all calculations and intimacies, and it did not feel rushed. This is just excellent. From mechanically savvy players to more RP based players, I really enjoy that the sheet part can be done so swiftly and smoothly.

2) Social Influence System – Once again, these pieces of the game worked incredibly smoothly, and I have yet to get a true complaint about it in play. Bending Sky is definitely a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and he wasted no time filling all the fair maidens of Elder Pine with thoughts of his charm and handsome features. Bending Sky also treated with the Eldest to explain why he had tried to sneak out of the village, saying that it was not an attempt to flee this dire situation (which it was), but rather it was so that he could remain unnoticed in hopes of catching the criminal swiftly and unawares, for he too understood what it was like to have a loved one go missing and to want her returned. Having used the great elemental’s Intimacy toward his people to leverage the situation, the elemental was blinded to Bending Sky’s lie and thus persuaded to allow the gregarious, if roguish, man to avoid meeting an undesirable end.

(I appreciate how the smaller dice pools of EX3 allow for some really tense moments to arise, as the difference between 4 successes and 6 successes can be HUGE. The deck was truly stacked against Bending Sky’s player here, and given his previous rolls, it seemed as though he was not going to make this one. But as heroes often do, he pulled out all the stops when things looked the worst, and he managed to squeak by the mighty Wood King’s [REDACTED]. This probably saved his life.)

Still not done with his manipulative ways, the new member of the party called out to a spirit of the wind in hopes of receiving its blessing for his task. In exchange for prayer, proper occult beckoning (this part was glossed over as we lack the rules), and the ornate bauble he had nicked from a local merchant, a Sylph did indeed come to help him on his way. Amusingly, the monk could not help himself, for the Sylph was of great ephemeral beauty, and instead of leaving well enough alone, he filled her with a great desire for him through clever words and well-placed caresses. So enamored was the Sylph that she has vowed to stay near the handsome traveler till the tides of time wash his memory from her, which for a sylph means maybe two days. NPCs were not the only ones to fall under the spell that Bending Sky worked with just his silver tongue. He wove lies to the PCs as well, both confusing them and endearing him to them. It was only toward the end of the day that his lies perhaps became too much, and they began to question who he truly was.

While Bending Sky worked his way through the small village, twisting the hearts and minds of even their great god, Karis was busy attending to the task at hand. Showing true concern for her life and the lives of the other caravan members, Karis quickly began moving among the small town’s people until she managed to find the missing child’s mother, who was hysterical over the loss of her daughter. With soothing words and heartfelt arguments—geared towards reminding the mother that not all was lost and that her daughter needed her to be strong and help those who were tasked with the search—the mother was persuaded to share all of what she knew regarding her daughter’s disappearance.

(From this, we learned just how hard social influence can be for those not geared toward it. Karis is not terrible at it, but it is far from her best skill set, and given a few modifiers working against her, even a housewife was difficult for her to overcome without the right argument. Karis’ player did in fact fail an earlier attempt to calm the mother because she did not target the right intimacy. I really like this, as it begins to help grade out the difference between primary social characters a lot more than in previous editions, and makes heavily investing in those skills something that has noticeable benefits.)

3) Investigation and Larceny Systems – I will preface this by saying that to some degree, the new rules were close to how I always ran Investigation and Larceny stuff, but man, does having the rules broken down help a lot! We all love the new [REDACTED] action under Investigation, and I even had the player of Bending Sky remark that he really needed to invest in that ability as he didn’t realize how awesome those actions were. In game, Karis and White Ink were the ones using these actions the most, but this was an area where Karis could truly shine, as she has spent years perfecting her investigative skills in order to catch mistakes she has made in her larcenous undertakings. So White Ink mostly just aided her, which I represented as granting her an extra die or lowering the difficulty, depending on what was occurring.

Karis prowled among the caravan guards and merchants, looking to see if any fit the profile of a kidnapper. While there were many dishonest, violent, or lazy men and women, she did not find any who she believed to be kidnappers. When the worried mother brought her back to her family’s farm, she began to investigate the scene with intense scrutiny, for she knew she did not have much time.

With White Ink’s help, she pieced together the child’s journey from the house to the backyard, and here is where she found the strangest thing of all, although to the casual observer it would be almost impossible to notice. In various spots coming and going from the yard area, Karis noticed several places where, instead of being trampled by use, the green grass stood up more, as if reaching toward the sun or a source of water. Next to these odd markings were two sets of smaller footprints that crushed the grass as normal. These two pair of prints led out of the yard and beyond the great bramble wall the Eldest had erected to keep any from escape.

Karis also observed that there was a small drag mark next to the smaller footprints. Remembering what the mother had said earlier about her daughter loving a large stuffed doll, Karis was able to put together that this was almost beyond a doubt the daughter and her captor. (Again, I want to reiterate how much fun we all thought this new investigation system could be, and from an ST perspective I really enjoyed how it encouraged me to give out clues and hints that can lead them to an answer, instead of just saying, “If they pass the difficulty, give them a straight answer.”)

After his tryst with the Sylph, Bending Sky reunited with Karis and White Ink at the home of the local priest, who Karis had sought out so he could beseech the Eldest to open the wall for them. The priest, of course, was terribly biased against them, and essentially said that if they wanted his god’s help they had best offer placation and sacrifice like anyone else. So stalwart was he in his disgust at all members of this caravan that he could not be persuaded from this stance no matter the argument.

It’s here that Karis showed her true profession. With light footsteps and hands as soft as a summer breeze, she slid in among the merchants of the caravan and relieved them of some of their more rare goods. A terracotta plate cast in the kilns of Chiarascuro; a fillet from a fish that can only be found in the Dreaming Sea, dried and seasoned to perfection; and a 10-year-old bottle of peach brandy from the Blessed Isle itself. So pleased was Karis with her success that she failed to notice Bending Sky swap out the brandy for a fine, but simpler bottle of sake.

(The rules for pickpocketing and opening locks worked great, took no time at all, and resulted in a lot of fun for our thief character. I will remark again that I still enjoy the ability for one good roll to affect the outcome of things. Bending Sky is only a passable thief, but he yet again scored a brilliant roll and was able to pull a fast one on Karis, whose eyes are nearly as sharp as her hands are swift.)

With another successful placation, the so-called priest Bending Sky gave forth the fine fruits of Karis’ labor, and for his trouble he was rewarded with three leaf pendants on hemp rope. With these, our heroes were able to walk beyond the bramble wall and out into the beginnings of a forest. None of them being great trackers, they had to travel slowly, and many hours were lost as they followed the odd trail left by the girl and by what Bending Sky guessed to be a small forest god.

Finally, as time seemed to be running out—given the need for a return trip—Karis heard the burbling of a brook and the giggles of a small child. With trained grace, she moved through the shadows and over noisy underbrush without so much as a sound. What she found at her destination was a small wonder to her eyes: A hidden glen with a small pond lay before her. The grass seemed greener there, flowers bloomed throughout, and the trees bent this way and that, forming an open dome around the small sanctuary. She also saw a sight that took her breath away. A woman more beautiful than any she had ever seen lounged next to the pond, but this woman was made of water and her laughter was the burbling brook. Next to her, a young girl giggled and danced, both so caught up in their reverie they did not notice Karis peering into the glen before returning to her party.

It is here the game left off, but plenty of questions remain before our heroes, for how will they retrieve the girl without upsetting an elemental in her home?

4) Roll and Value Modifiers – These continue to be a great way to shift the story and its encounters around, based on the RP of the PCs and the situations they find themselves in. I am still learning to use them, but again thank you for including them the way you did.

5) Combat – No combat this time around.

Hope this one is as useful as the last few. If you need anything clarified let me know. We will be playing again this week and hopefully wrapping up this adventure and moving onto the next town where an even more interesting challenge, and yet more social and investigative testing, awaits them 🙂

Marst Chronicle: Session #2

In the first session of the Marst playtest chronicle for Exalted Third Edition, we’ve met the PCs and seen them fight. Now it’s time for the playtest report on the group’s second session:

The caravan pulls up to the village of Elder Pine. It is a small town built around an absurdly large pine tree. The tree itself climbs easily 1/4 mile into the sky and can be seen for quite a ways further then that. Elder Pine marks the beginning of the more wooded part of the journey. Word is passed around by the guards that the caravan will be stopped here for three days.

Karis, wishing to know more about the lay of the land, asks the other guards what they know of the place. A little haggling and some minor pilfered goods later, this is what she finds out: The citizens of Elder Pine revere the tree as sacred and simply refer to it as the Eldest. Rumor has it—and the guards don’t necessarily believe these rumors, but they tread lightly all the same—the Eldest is actually an old and powerful god of the forest. He is said to love his citizens and his land. It has been said that Elder Pine is never hungry, never attacked, and that the women are as fertile as the fields. One especially paranoid guard also notes that he has heard the god jealously guards his people from the outside world and that Elder Pine is truly a prison, albeit a happy one.

(We liked the way the [REDACTED] piece of social influence worked. It did not take much time to resolve and I did not find it hard to adjudicate which offers were good and which were not going to cut it. I did not use much of the Larceny systems here, as she was not trying to get difficult-to-acquire goods from especially astute people, and the PC is an amazing thief. So having her roll to get some extra tobacco, a new whetstone, and ten coins was not really something I deemed worthwhile.)

The caravan master, Oberon Telev, informs everyone to be on their best behavior while in Elder Pine, because it is customary for the local priest to bless all caravans heading deeper into the forest, and the priest despises disruptions in his little town.

White Ink finds this curious, and so he approaches Telev to ask him why this blessing is so important. Telev is not especially keen on disclosing these facts, but the gruff looking older man flashes more charisma and social prowess then expected, and uses an inspiring bit of flattery to stoke Telev’s pride and get him talking about his beloved caravan. This gets Telev talking about how any caravan he has ever run on this route has never lost a guard, and how his good dealings with Elder Pine are a strong reason for that.

When pressed further on the subject by a rather persuasive argument that plays on Telev’s sense of gratitude toward those who have helped his caravan, he reveals that the blessing is an important thing for all traveling East on this road to receive. He says that the blessing of the Eldest’s priest lays a mark upon the caravan which grants it protection from all the mischievous spirits of the forest until you reach the town of Shimmering Blossom, which is more then a week’s travel away. Telev asks the older man to keep this secret between them, and leaves shaking his head a bit confused at the old warrior’s skill with words.

(We again do not have much but good things to say about the social system here. It worked pretty smoothly and efficiently to let players find out what they need and then exploit that information to their advantage. I also really enjoy how you can use one action, in this case a [REDACTED], to help feed into another action, in this case a [REDACTED]. It is probably not necessary, but we did discuss whether or not performing certain actions should give you a bonus of some kind if followed up by ones that also exploit that use. In the end we decided to bring it up [in our playtest feedback], but also note that simply awarding a higher stunt for the clever move may also work. The players have also not been trying anything overly hard and have been very cautious about choosing strong Intimacies to exploit, but they seem pleased with the effect and that it doesn’t all end with “LOL NOPE I SPEND WP.” The finishing of the small side quest coming up and the next village may push them harder socially if they choose to go that route with things. I hope it does, as I really want to see what happens to the social system when it starts to feel some stress from more powerful people being involved in it. )

The next two days pass without much fanfare, and with our heroes performing their duties or simply resting. Karis debates stealing a few things from the village but is troubled by what the other guards shared with her, and so she resists the urge for now by telling herself that the next town will be worth the patience here.

The next morning, Oberon Telev meets with the Eldest’s priest to arrange for the caravan to be blessed. Before the priest can begin, though, an ancient roar splits the air as roots twist up from the ground and twine themselves over and through the wheels of the caravan. Guards shout, Karis readies her bow, White Ink appears worried, and Oberon Telev shouts his dismay and insists on knowing what this is about. His demands are cut off by the shadow of a god.

Out from the great pine steps a being with flesh of the strongest timber, hair of the deepest green, eyes of a darkness so great that to look upon them is to be convinced it is night, and a countenance so full of wrath that all sound in the entire wood ends. About him is draped a cloak of moss and upon his head rests a bramble crown. In his massive right hand he holds a club forged from the heartwood of a tree that was born before time began, and as he walks forward, he points it at the caravan master and all those who travel with him.

“Who are you to make demands here, in my home!” The Wood King’s voice seems to carve itself into the air. “Did I not welcome you here? Did my people not feed you well and treat you with kindness?” The god does not wait for a reply. “How dare you receive my hospitality and then treat me this way. I will have all your heads for this. Your blood will become the gems that adorn my hair!”

A startled Telev then begins to praise the great king and ask him what he means, and generally attempts to sort out what is going on. Eldest then informs him that a young girl has gone missing from his village, and that because no one else in the forest would dare challenge him in such a way, it must have been this caravan’s men who took her. After much groveling and begging, the Wood King says that he will give them all one chance to prove their innocence. If the girl and the perpetrator are turned over to him in two days’ time, the caravan and its men may go on with his blessing. If they do not do this, then he will assume them guilty and none shall ever leave Elder Pine.

(Finally, we got a good test of the [REDACTED] action here, and I can conclusively say a [REDACTED] action coming from a Wood King leaves one good reason to be scared. As an ST, I appreciate how the system really lets me guide the tone of the scene I want by being diverse enough to allow me many options, and powerful enough that even stubborn players will want to think twice before resisting.)

Telev quickly gathers all the caravan guards and passengers together and asks for the best and bravest to aid him in appeasing the Wood King. Men grow pale, women shake their heads, and even the animals shy away, leaving only our three heroes, Mato Leaf-Dancer, Karis, and White Ink still in front of Telev. The fate of many lives now rest upon their shoulders, but are even these brave souls strong enough to carry the demands of a god? We will find out next time.

This was a short session, but we accomplished a lot with the social system and honestly we really enjoy it so far. I do not have any real complaints, now that I have seen it used a bit more. As I mentioned above, I look forward to giving it a really good test if the PCs decide to get social in finishing this quest or in the next town, which is rife with strong personalities for them to butt heads against.

Nothing too ground breaking this time around, but I am really enjoying STing with this system, and my players seem to be having a blast so far, so I think you guys are really making something awesome here. I cannot wait for them to Exalt, but that is a few games off yet. If you need any clarification on anything from me or want us to focus on something in particular, just let me know.

Exalted 3e Playtest: Social Influence Feedback

Here’s a snippet of early feedback about the 3e social influence system from the first Marst Chronicle playtest report. Sadly, it doesn’t provide any in-setting context as to how and under what circumstances the players used the social mechanics. But I’m currently working on editing the playgroup’s next session report for publication, and that contains real examples of social influence in actual play, dealing with mortals and spirits alike.

“[The social influence system] flowed nicely, and I only had to go and check the rules a couple times, which speaks to their simplicity.  We all feel that the new Intimacy system is great, and I think it may be the best mechanical system piece I have read. … [T]here was always a question about whether or not a player’s influence attempt would work or not, and as an ST and player I love that feeling, as I think it heightens the game.  Rolling dice simply means more when there is a possible chance of failure.

“On an RP level, I got a lot of comments about how Intimacies helped the players quickly create a complex character and at the same time drive them to develop more interesting and meaningful histories.  This is, in my opinion, a vast step forward from last edition, because Motivations didn’t really do this as well and [2e] Intimacies, while an interesting piece of the game, had no mechanical relevance and thus were often afterthoughts or things you picked up more once you started playing, which left the base character ill-defined.

“… Each [element of the social influence system] worked as intended, did not bog the game down, and did not leave me with the impetus to want to throw off this vile outside force attempting to control my NPCs’ brains.”

Exalted 3e Playtest: Mortal Combat

Here’s more from the first Marst Chronicle playtest report. The PCs are still heroic mortals here, so there’s no use of Charms; they’re still working solely within the framework of the baseline combat system. I’ve edited the report to remove digressions and to eliminate references to specific mechanical elements that I’m not authorized to spoil. I hope that it remains informative nonetheless!

“First off, the most frequent comment I got was that [combat] was fun. I have waited years to have said that about an Exalted combat again :).

“The combat was the 3 PCs against 7 bandits. I used the bandits individually instead of trying out battle groups, but that is coming, rest assured.

“The combat began with the bandits sneaking into the caravan area in hopes of robbing the traveling merchants. Other than Karis, the rest of the guard—a mere 15 men—were mostly not paying great attention, as this caravan route is rarely attacked. When the call to arms was finally issued, the bandits were already upon them, and only the PCs were prepared to oppose them.

“The combat began with Karis splitting her actions and quietly finding a shadow to fire upon a bandit from. This, coupled with [REDACTED], let her strike from ambush, which we all agreed worked well and liked that it only really worked once per combat, before [REDACTED]. The fight ebbed and flowed nicely. The archer danced away from several rushes while building her [combat momentum] up before unleashing several devastating attacks—some coupled with social actions to scare the bandits away now that they were wounded, others to incapacitate foes without killing them.

“Here I will note that I got several comments on how much [REDACTED] seemed to add to the depth of combat. We enjoyed that there are options other than “harm the bad guy,” and even better that we are encouraged to make up our own [REDACTED] and use them as we need. For example, rather than killing one bandit, [Karis’ player] decided she wanted to shoot an arrow into his clothing, effectively pinning him to the side of a wagon. This was easily made into a [REDACTED] as we went and it worked like a charm using a variation of the new grapple rules.

“Mato got himself embroiled into an interesting back and forth fight with a bandit, which involved using the scenery to stay out of close combat reach and the trading back and forth of multiple thrown attacks, before [Mato’s player]—using [combat momentum] he had built up from a fleeing bandit—struck his foe unconscious with a powerful blow to the head on a very cool and well-timed boomerang stunt.

“With White Ink, we found that moving between Melee and Brawl attacks worked quite smoothly, and that greatswords make you feel really badass when you hit with them. His larger soak also seemed to work as a solid balance to his lower [defense], as when he was hit he did not ever lose much [combat momentum] as his light weapon-wielding foes had issues rolling many dice against him.

“Not everything was rosy for the PCs though, and if not for them managing to hold out long enough for the other guards to join in, things were setting up to be rough for them, as Karis was [REDACTED] and Mato and White Ink were both headed in that direction. The combat also only took about 40 minutes, and that includes several pauses to look up rules, time for questions, and some moments of “Oops” where [combat momentum] was not adjusted correctly. So all in all it went pretty quickly, and I expect it to get better and better as we all get used to it.”

Exalted 3e Playtest: The Marst Chronicle

We currently have a number of playtest groups working on Exalted 3e. One of them consists of Contagion of Law designer Shane Cherry and his longtime playgroup. They’ve been sending me playtest reports, and with the developers’ approval, I’m passing on excerpts from those reports to you!

The players have a wide range of attitudes toward game mechanics. Some are full-on crunch wonks. Others would rather not have to interact with any kind of mechanics at all. Players at both ends of the spectrum report that they’re happy with the level of complexity present in the playtest rules. They’ve provided a good bit of mechanical feedback; I’m in discussion with the developers to see how much of that feedback can be posted here.

Meanwhile, in today’s report, we meet the playtest Solar circle:

“[The PCs are] traveling on a merchant caravan going from Marst, a kingdom on the edge of the Hundred Kingdoms area, to Long Bough, a small city on the edge of the great Eastern forest.  So far we have a young caravan guard who is hoping to escape her boring life and find a bright, adventurous future on the road (that is until [her player] inevitably changes her mind a little lol), and a retired Lookshy gunzosha warrior who is looking to reclaim the heroism he found in his youth.

“Once all the PCs were ready, the caravan from Marst to Long Bough finally began its journey, and with it the story of our heroes began.  This first session, we were able to do a solid combat and several social scenes, where we tried out the new system there as well.  Groundwork is being laid as well for what I hope is an interesting and fun use of the Investigation and Larceny rules that will take place next time we run.  Details on the combat and social systems are below.

“The characters involved yesterday include Karis, a highly skilled thief born and raised in Marst.  She steals because it is the life she knows and enjoys, but does do her best to make only those who have more then they should her targets.  She may have bitten off more then she can chew with her last job though, as the most prominent merchant in town has hired the best huntsmen money can buy to track her down.  In hopes of ducking the heat for a time, Karis has used her skills with a bow along with her sharp eyes and investigative talents to be hired on as a caravan guard, the jewels from the merchant’s estate safely tucked away under her armor.

“Mato Leaf-Dancer is a young Haltan who is just recently out of his coming of age ceremony.  The reasons he left Halta are his own, but he is returning there now, a special package hidden in his pack.  He seems genuinely likable despite his lack of speech, but his pointy ears, youth, and obvious Haltan appearance have put many ill at ease.  He has booked passage heading to Long Bough in hopes of catching a river boat north back toward his home.

“Finally, there is White Ink, the elder statesman of the group.  His appearance is weathered and well scarred, seemingly telling of a lifetime of battle. But he seems to limp when he walks, the large armor he wears seems too large for his old frame, and the massive sword upon his back is almost laughably out of place. None know why he is traveling East, and indeed his gruff exterior does not entice conversation. But those who have met him say he is only half as surly as he looks, and all comment on his eyes, which appear far too young to belong to such an old man.”

Next time: Solars vs Bandits. I wonder how that turns out?