Archive for November, 2009

Exalted is a great game, but White Wolf is doing it wrong

Posted in Game design, Gamecraft, Games with tags , , , , , , , on November 10, 2009 by Olorin

I originally intended to write this post in June, but sometimes things just don’t work out as planned. At that time, I had just recently bought Manual of Exalted Power: The Infernals, a great source of information on the Green Sun Princes and their immortal masters.

A week before coming up with the idea of this post I had also bought HeroQuest 2.0, the new edition of Robin Laws’ story-oriented roleplaying game, at the Tentacles Convention. But more about that soon.

So, what actually is wrong with Exalted?

Firstly, I think I have to make clear that I really, really like Exalted. The setting and the attitude, that is. The problem is, the system doesn’t properly enforce either of these two things. Yes yes, we have the Stunts. Big yahoo-friggin’-doodle deal. The system fucks that up, too, especially in the second edition.

Still, it’s not my intent to belittle the work those designers have done. It’s not that the system is objectively bad. Rather, it’s a good system for some other game. You don’t get fast-paced anime-action with a system that makes you count Ticks and micromanage your resources (mainly, Essence).

Yes, the Golden Rule is there. But that is just a smokescreen to go on with sloppy design. You see, if I started to change the aspects that I see as needing fixing, it would brake too many related things. It’d be an endless cycle. Might as well do it myself from the beginning.

For example, dropping Ticks altogether and switching to exchange-based conflicts, would lead to the need of dropping or changing the movement rules. These two changes would brake many Charms. So you’d have to fix those too. Et cetera ad nauseam. Why drop the Ticks? They are just venom to doing Stunts. Ticks force you to break your narration into tiny bits that, when separated, aren’t that impressive.

Like this:
First action: “I run towards the huge two-headed serpent.”
Second action: “I run up it’s back and left neck.”
Third action: “I take a good foothold, raise my Grimcleacer and chop into it’s cranium.”
And between every action, there are (likely) other people’s actions and almost-narrations of almost-cool things almost-happening.

It’s not like all that glorious Stunting-goodness is grinding the game to a halt, you don’t need to come up with specific mechanics to tone it down!

There are also other, smaller things on my list that seem counter-intuitive to the supposed “spirit of the game.” To make your character unique in the field of magic, you have two options. Your combos, and the option to come up with your own charms. And they they don’t support the latter. Why does that feel like there’s a “We’d prefer you playing with our pre-made charms instead of having you, like, being creative” -mentality behind that? The other option is that they’re just either lazy or stupid. And let’s be honest, none of these options is a desired conception.

There are many more small things that just annoy the hell outta me, but it’d take the whole night to go through all of them, so I’ll just stick with these that could be remedied quite painlessly (by changing the core design philosophy).

It might seem odd to state that despite all of this, I won’t abandon the game’s own system altogether. It is still sufficently good when I want to do some semi-heavy character-micromanaging, and of course for powergaming. That system positively welcomes anyone who wants to game the system or play the mechanics. It’s bulk just isn’t for every game.

But, it’s easy to complain about this and that, and do nothing about it.

This is where HeroQuest come in. With it’s flavor-driven character creation the second point above, the uniqueness of magic, is easily achieved. I have also been thinking about how the different magic systems in Exalted should be structured in HeroQuest. I have made some progress, and might put it up as a post of it’s own, some other time.

The first point is quite easily fixed with HQ, too, because it doesn’t have combat system that traces your actions, second by second. You’re free to “Stunt” your brains out.

So in conclusion, the people of White Wolf mean well. Their execution just doesn’t do justice to the game’s spirit.

I think I’ll leave it here for now. Let’s see if I want to poke on the pile of things-wrong-in-Exalted again some time.

Currently playing: Machinae Supremacy – Anthem Apocalyptica

Chilling Heat, conclusion

Posted in Chilling Heat, Games I've ran with tags , , on November 8, 2009 by Olorin

So, that was about it. It was a very amusing game in the end, although somewhere along the way I had doubts whether it’s gonna hold together or fall apart. Main reason for this was of course the fact that I honestly didn’t know, at least for the first two sessions, where it should, could or might go. My preparation for the game was a list random things that had came to my mind at some point. It was only between the second and the third session that I finally came up with some focus and direction: the unspeakable servant and fate of Richard Shanahan.

I tried to find some relevance and meaning for the abandoned house and the mystical mirror, but it just wasn’t there. It was too random, too different. So that’s one thing I’m gonna drop if I ever run this scenario again, or write it up properly. Other thing that will be cut is that damned snowfall. Yes, it certainly generated very enjoyable event, but in the end it was just too weird. Although I might say that a tornado avoiding things and generally not breaking anything at all is too weird, also. Maybe I’ll just go with regular snow.

So what really had happend? Why were there two dead bodies of Dick Shanahan? Elementary, my dear Watson. The one in the basement was the real one. He had just finalized the ritual for the servant when this one nameless fleshworker came seeking for the McGuffin, that precious knife. (Now that I think of it, I realize I forgot to mention that the characters found this outsider’s wallet, which included a driver’s licence with his previous face on it, while they searched for the knife.) And that’s not all. The nameless fleshworker was also possessed by a demon which knew some really strong magick. Magick, which allowed “them” to see Dick’s memories, to reveal the whereabouts of the knife. But they also found out that his niece and a student of a friend were coming, and decided to play along a few days. They didn’t want Dick’s death be known quite so soon. So the demon read Dick’s memories and the fleshworker worked his magick to become Dick.

Too bad the demon was a bloodthirsty sadistic son of a bitch, who just couldn’t help himself and used the poor fleshworker’s body to his own ends. And that ended up well, didn’t it?

So that’s definitely the thing I want to preserve. That’s just too juicy a twist to throw away. I will also keep the NPCs, and possibly come up with a few more. The fire at the school was directly related to Megan’s Noble Trigger, so that’s really not a keeper.

I actually have only one thing I’m not that sure about. Should I write the PCs by myself or do it like the first time, and only give some guidance and pointers?

I might definitely have forgotten something, but those are propably things that aren’t worth mentioning to begin with. :)

And that’s finally it. I wrote the first post for this write-up over 16 months ago. That certainly took way too long to finish. I really have to re-think when’s the next time I’m gonna do something like this again. I have one campaign log from an Exalted campaign that I thought I’d like to write-up, but this really gives some perpective. This game was only five sessions long, and still… damn. And that Exalted campaign took somewhere around 8 months in real time, maybe 20-24 sessions or so, to play through.

That’s some heavy perspective.

Currently playing: White Skull – Time for Glory

Chilling Heat, part 5

Posted in Chilling Heat, Games I've ran with tags , , on November 7, 2009 by Olorin

A ragged man stood there in the doorway. By the look of his messy hair and bristle, one could’ve taken him just a random bum who had just wandered in. But there was something that didn’t fit. His eyes were too sharp, his gruff voice had a hint of something untangible and when he walked in and towards the bed, a silent tinkle accompanied him.

I think it’s plausible to say that it can be quite disturbing if one hasn’t seen a fleshworker in action before. And that’s propably how it felt like, to see that odd man moulding Derek’s hand like it was Plasticine. And in a few minutes that felt like agonizing hours, he was done. Excluding the trails of blood on Derek’s hand, his arm looked like as if nothing had happened.

I don’t remember whether he bargained with them before or after he did his “thing.” Either way, it was an opressing situation for Megan and Osmon, as they really didn’t have other options. Derek was slowly bleeding to death and they propably had no time to take him to anywhere else.

Soon afterwards, as Derek came to, they left the clinic and met with the odd man outside. He bargained with them, giving some cryptic clues and as a payback demanded a certain knife Richard had had. (Consequently it was exactly the same “thing” Derek’s mentor had sent him to get.) He also described it roughly so now they knew what to look for. After getting them to agree to the bargain, he adviced that they should get rid off the unspeakable servant on the loose (that monstrous ox in the woods, in part 4), and how that might be achieved. You can say that they weren’t happy to hear that only the master can really wound the creature.

Back at the farm, characters getting seriously desperate. Finally someone proposed if they could use Dick’s bodyparts as weapons or at least his teeth as ammunition. Megan wasn’t amused, to say the least. Off to bed they went, to wake up to the already familiar hopelessness. Derek or Osmon heard some quiet, yet heavy scuttling under the floor during the night, but though he was just having a dream.

Megan prepares some breakfast with Sam while Derek and Osmon get to work, digging up Dick’s corpse and starting to pull of his teeth. Yummy. Their masterplan was to fill some shotgun shells with teeth instead of pellets. Doesn’t sound very effective, but at least it was a very creative approach from them. And it just fit the mood perfectly.

It was still a tad surprising thet they didn’t try to whip up some makeshift spears out of the bigger bones or something like that. At some point the Sheriff appeared again, looking for Dick. It was then that the characters got an idea, and decided to use the Sheriff and his Deputy as aids in their horrifying task. They told that Dick had gone hiking and hadn’t returned, and that they were planning to go look for him. Of course this got the Sheriff’s attention, and while a bit lazy, he still took situations like this seriously.

Off to the woods to face the horrid beast. They split into two teams, the Sheriff in the first and the Deputy in the second, so they could stay in contact with their walkie-talkies. I don’t remember which character was with whom, but that’s not crucial anyway. At some point, while keeping the camera on Team Sherifff, something happened to Team Deputy. There were Deputy’s incoherent screams in the radio and they [Team Sheriff] heard shots being fired. At this point I yet didn’t say anything to the player whose character had been with the Deputy (it might have been Derek, now that I think of it), and just followed Team Sheriff as they hurried through the thickets.

Finally they found Derek unharmed (he had managed to claw his way up a tree) who then told the Sheriff that a wild, possibly rabid ox had charged out of nowhere. The Deputy had tried to stop it with his sidearm, to no avail. Now the Deputy was nowhere to be found, and Derek hadn’t seen what happened. He actually had tried to use his magick against it, but it just didn’t cut it. While heroically protecting his sorry ass, the Deputy had gotten stuck on the ox’s horn and was dragged away.

The Sheriff decided that he had to get more men, as the situation certainly seemed more dangerous than presumed. He allowed the characters to keep on looking (for some reason I can’t recollect), and left for his car to organize a hunting party.

After following the hoofprints for awhile, Derek came up to a small clearing (they had spread a little, walking in line). Oddly, the hoofprints vanished. The clearing seemed unoccupied, so he headed warily onwards. And then, as he had almost crossed the clearing, he heard snorting just right behind him. Freezing on that spot, a few heartbeats later he dared to turn around, just to find himself staring right into the eyes of that otherworldly beast.

On Derek’s sides, Osmon and Megan heard the noises, too. Fighting their urge to flee, they turned their steps towards Derek.

But it was strange. The beast just stood there, with no sign of malice or frenzy they’d witnessed before. It seemed to be just… ruminating. Osmon decided to take advantage of what seemed like a one-time chance, and let his shotgun, loaded with teeth, do the talking.

And nothing. Maybe just a minor scratch. And any second now, all hell might break loose.

Still nothing. I think it was Derek or Megan who decided to approach it, and talk to it. And basically s/he just said: “Could you go away?” And then the thing just melted into a big puddle of really black goo. Were the characters (and players) dumbstruck? You can bet on it. After that they just returned to the farm, for they still had to find that one certain knife.

As a sidenote, I didn’t, and don’t have any proper writeup for that artifact. But it’s a tool of great use to a fleshworker, as it doubles the charge gain when used. Slice off your ear with it? Double the juice! (Well okay, maybe it shouldn’t work with major charges.)

They delivered the knife to the strange man on the town, even though Derek was not happy about it. They decided to wrap things up a bit on the farm, before parting ways. Derek, while napping in the living room, heard that scuttling mentioned earlier. Megan and Osmon agreed to hearing it too, so they decided to check the basement. Armed with flashlight and more conventional weapons, they slowly descended the creaky stairs.

Black spiderlike… things shunned away from the lights, and Derek froze on the sight of the Tenebrae (his Fear Trigger). And just to get the ultimate mindfuck out of it, they found Richard’s dead body. Osmon stormed right up the stairs, past Derek and with out stopping, behind the barn. He began to open the grave, just to find Richard’s remains, just the way they left ’em.

Inside, Derek picked himself up and investigated what had upset Osmon that much. I definitely looked just like Dick, only a bit differently decomposed. But this one was missing it’s left eye. He also noticed that the fingertips were all messed up, like he had been scraping them against something hard and rough. And on the wall noticed a frail message, written in blood:


The next day, they left. Osmon hitched a ride from the truck stop, Derek went on his own and Megan left with Sam. Megan stopped at the gas station to get some refill, and suddenly she heard a horrfyingly familiar voice. Turning around, she saw her husband before her, holding a shotgun. Aimed at her. She tried to ran for her own gun, but there was just the loud bang, and after that, only darkness and cold.

We all were quiet for a moment, as this was playing on the background.

Bang bang, he shot me down
Bang bang, I hit the ground
Bang bang, that awful sound
Bang bang, my baby shot me down…

Soon, the final post (finally!) with some conclusions, thoughts and explanations.

Currently playing: Nancy Sinatra – Bang Bang