Rock’s Fall Chronicle

Rock’s Fall Chronicle: Session #2

For my second session as a player in the ongoing Rock’s Fall voice-chat playtest chronicle, Tepet Joselyn’s player returned to the group. Unfortunately, Touzen’s player had to leave the game for scheduling reasons, so once again it was a two-player session. In addition, for better or worse, the Storyteller fully revealed his penchant for low humor.

We headed up into the hills, to the site where we planned to start a new gold mine, to invoke the wealth-god Copper Road. The prayer to call him forth—which involved a lump of raw orichalcum glued to the bottom of a shoe—proved wildly efficacious (13 successes!), and he appeared posthaste. But he proved weird as gods go, demanding “shiny things” in exchange for his blessing, while exhibiting absolutely no interest in mortal prayer. When Joselyn and I studied him with All-Encompassing Sorcerer’s Sight, we saw that his Essence had been twisted somehow, in a manner beyond our ability to wholly understand or to reverse.

Given the god’s state, we dismissed our thoughts of promoting him to the position of the tutelary spirit of Rock’s Fall. Still, we expressed openness toward arranging a long-term bargain, and as proof of his divine abilities, he coated every road in Rock’s Fall with a thin layer of copper. Once peeled away, this proved a sizable quantity of metal, enough to be worth incorporating into future trade negotiations with local merchants.

Next, after I reconstructed the ritual to invoke the blessing of the agricultural god Seven Stalks upon the harvest, we gathered everyone, natives and mercenaries alike, to enact the rite in the context of a harvest festival. We brought out food and drink, arranged cooperative games, and made speeches about the future of the community. In so doing, we successfully inspired the crowd with joy, and instilled them with a Principle of, “Working together, we are stronger and richer.”

Once everyone had gathered and was in a receptive mood, we performed prayers and sacrifices to bring Seven Stalks among us. He turned out to be a very silly god indeed, with a penchant for stand-up comedy. Joselyn was soon irritated beyond measure and walked off. I overlooked the god’s odd behavior—and his offer of the strange beverage he called “tequila”—and arranged a deal. As with Copper Road, Seven Stalks was uninterested in prayer. Instead we would arrange a yearly harvest festival at which the god could perform his stand-up act, build him a temple, and cut him in on ten percent of the temple’s “door charge,” and in exchange he would ensure consistently rich harvests for Rock’s Fall.

(We didn’t actually use the [REDACTED] action here, despite the fact that that we were bargaining, because both sides came to an accommodation with which they were happy. No conflict means no rolling dice.)

After a brief stop in the rinky-dink city of Mercedes to investigate the merchant Adrian von Berger, who held a Guild monopoly on Mercedes’ foreign trade, on behalf of one of Joselyn’s contacts—a subplot with which I had little to do—we traveled down the Yanaze to Great Forks. There we meant to make trade arrangements to fund the Solars’ mercenary force, and to research why the gods of Mercedes were damaged and how they might be mended.

We soon found a consortium, Highmoon Shipping, that was willing to contravene von Berger’s monopoly. After some dickering, we agreed on a five-year contract to trade our surplus crops and gold in exchange for horses and cattle, and a steady supply of our copper in exchange for rhinestones—to supply Copper Road’s obsession with shiny things—and a modicum of silver.

(Once again, we reached an accommodation without resorting to the [REDACTED] action. Pressing for more might have undone the deal entirely by running up against a contrary fiscal Intimacy. We ought to stress test that rule, but knowing that it will stay out of the way unless we need it is a good thing.)

Next, in an effort to obtain more farmers to take advantage of Seven Stalks’ blessing, we visited the temple of a major agricultural deity. There we hoped that petitioners suffering from disastrous losses of crops or land might be willing to move to Rock’s Fall. Our generous offer—light taxation of net produce, with no ties of serfdom—proved irresistible, and the only trouble lay in weeding out potential troublemakers. (51 successes on an extended roll—impressive!) We wound up with 300 families of apparently upstanding farmfolk, whose move to Rock’s Fall we bankrolled with my remaining personal funds.

Lastly, we met with the savant Eight-Eyes, a bespectacled minor divinity with whom I had some ongoing correspondence. He expressed surprised when we inquired about the damaged gods of Mercedes, as we were not the first to come to him about that problem; he had received a similar inquiry a few months earlier, from a pair whom Joselyn recognized as two Abyssals that she and Touzen had encountered in the area.

Consulting his memories of the First Age, Eight-Eyes confirmed our hypothesis that long-ago Celestial Exalts had indulged in a feat of spiritual engineering to modify all the gods of the region around Rock’s Fall, and that the gods’ current damaged states were the result of some shared trauma. The damage could be reversed, he said, but doing so would require major feats of geomancy and soul surgery. We then procured a list of Solar and Lunar Exalts involved in the project in hopes of tracking down any notes they may have left regarding the process. To facilitate this, we asked for a list of their Dragon-Blooded lieutenants in case any of said lieutenants had borne away notes or other research material after the Usurpation.

Tepet Joselyn went on to jokingly suggest that perhaps we might find more information by exploring the ruins of Meru. On that light-heartedly suicidal note, we ended the session.

At no point did we push the system toward its limits, but we continued to get a feel for how the social influence rules functioned under normal circumstances, across a range of different dice pools. The social rules have more moving parts than I’d originally hoped, but fewer than I’d feared. And unlike a combat ruleset, where everyone needs to know how everything works, social influence runs smoothly as long as at least one person at the table is intimately familiar with the system.


Exalted 3e Playtest: The Rock’s Fall Chronicle

While a game benefits greatly from bringing in external playtesters to check out the rules, the designers and developers themselves must always participate directly in playtesting. After all, no matter how many times you read the rules or eyeball the numbers, actual play is invaluable in assessing how things work at the table. This isn’t just about mechanics, either, as it’s important to know how easy it is to grasp the rules—both to learn overall systems and to master exceptions, patterns, tactics, etc.—and to see how the system feels when you’re using it in play.

Given that the Storyteller has a different experience of play from the players, it’s important for RPG designers to playtest on both sides of the screen. So, in addition to running the Zhaojun playtest chronicle, I’ve joined an ongoing playtest group as a player. Here begin the adventures of Irukai the Astrologer, elderly Twilight Caste savant!

I secured my coracle at a tumbledown stone pier in a largely uninhabited corner of Mercedes, one of the lesser principalities of the Hundred Kingdoms, just as another, larger boat cast off. Passengers from that other boat who’d disembarked at the pier were organizing themselves to continue their journey on foot. They included a woman in Realm-wrought armor, a dozen female monks in concealing habits, and a pair of armed travelers with less conspicuous gear and garb. One of that pair, Tepet Joeslyn, remained aloof, while the other, a richly dressed and powdered Sijanese named Touzen, approached me in my guise of a doddering astrologer.

As we chatted on the road about the region and current events, I played up my role of feckless old man by “accidentally” scattering astrological charts everywhere, allowing me to drop back farther from the Dynast and her peculiar entourage, whose eyes exhibited an unnatural feline gleam as it grew dark. By nightfall, Touzen felt protective of his clever, inoffensive elderly companion.

(I’d been worried that the social influence rules would prove complicated in actual play. But once I ran through various social actions in actual play, they proved easy to get a handle on, and the rules packet was a helpful reference source whenever I was unsure about how to resolve something.)

The next morning, after informing me of the troubles in the village of Rock’s Fall—where he, his companion Tepet Joeslyn, and the mercenaries in their employ had established their base of operations—Touzen offered me employment as an astrologer. I expressed interest, but asked to wait until I had a better sense of the situation before I committed to any arrangement.

Rock’s Fall proved to be an armed camp, where a thousand mercenaries—outnumbering the native farmers ten to one—labored to raise crude barracks and fortifications. One of the mercenary captains, a fellow named Thrice-Blessed, addressed my hosts as “Anathema.” Touzen wryly commented that the man had no inside voice, but did not deny the allegation.

We discussed the matter at greater length over dinner. Touzen was primarily interested in figuring out whether or not I objected to working with Solars, so I was able to get through the conversation without letting slip that I, too, was Exalted. I agreed to act as their astrologer and advisor, with an appropriate rank and stipend, on the understanding that I might leave whenever I wished without fear of consequence.

That night, in my new quarters, performed an astrological divination to determine whether this was an auspicious decision. The result was the most positive divination that I’d ever performed. (By dumping in every Charm and modifier available to me, I rolled a stupidly large number of dice—albeit not as many as the biggest dice pools I’ve seen in earlier editions—and rolled a whole lot of tens, giving me a ridiculous 16 successes. This was fun!)

The next day, I talked with Touzen about current events in and around Rock’s Fall, and the needs of the place and its people. As the village elder was a difficult woman who might cause trouble down the line, I spent some time among the locals to learn who else they might respect and trust enough to take as their leader. Surprisingly, the best alternative proved to be one of the mercenary group’s Dragon-Blooded lieutenants, Ragara V’naft.

Over the next couple of days, I examined the village’s largely played-out gold mine and wandered through the hills to examine the region’s strata. Combined with my knowledge of geology, I found a spot that was likely to still be rich in gold, where we might establish a fresh mine with which to refill the mercenary company’s dwindling coffers.

(These scenes required just one dice roll each. Not everything in 3e involves a fancy new subsystem; as in previous editions, you can usually just pick an appropriate Attribute and Ability and roll some dice. I falso ound the explanation of difficulty ratings to be clearer than previous editions.)

Then, having learned that Touzen and Joeslyn had had no contact with any of the local spirits, I decided to establish contact with the spirit hierarchy myself. As it seemed that the region’s gods did not respond directly to the villagers’ prayers and there was no established village god, I chose to start with the god of the local river, a reputedly sad creature named Lone Tear. To stir the spirit’s heart, I called upon the villagers’ children to send brightly colored paper lanterns drifting downriver as I called upon Lone Tear to attend me.

Lone Tear rose out of the river and approached, weeping piteously. He rambled and raved about the collapse of the region’s spirit hierarchy an age ago, when the destruction of the manse at the heart of the spirit court drove the court’s leader mad. I shook him from his maundering by informing him that the Solars had returned, and that the Solars now dwelling in Rock’s Fall had both the power and the will to repair what was broken and restore what was lost. I said that the spirit courts would be made whole again, and he believed, gaining hope where once he had none.

After learning from Lone Tear of the rest of the nearby spirit hierarchy and having him identify three residents with whom he had an affinity—who might be trained as his priests and shamans—I ended our colloquy and returned to the village. I had learned much and made a new ally. That was enough for one day; there would be more to do tomorrow.

As a player, I found the rules to be as clear and straightforward as either previous edition overall. Even though it’s a playtest and not a proper chronicle, and thus is focused more on testing the system than on roleplaying, I’m looking forward to playing further in today’s session!