Sunday, August 20, 2006

[Actual Play] Exalted: The Gates of Heaven

Here's my report on the short-term Exalted 2nd Edition game I'm running for some friends and as research for my thesis.

"I just ran my first Exalted game. I’d played Exalted twice before, one campaign that went about seven games, another that went two or so games. I’ve been a huge fan of Exalted since it was released, disappearing into my room for three days as I devoured the book cover to cover before emerging full of geekiness.

My stance on Exalted is this: Exalted is a game that tells me right off that I should say ‘Yes!’ to my players when they ask for...most anything. I was reminded of this in the chargen session when my players asked questions like ‘Can I take over Paragon?’ ‘Can I have a living robot manse?’ and ‘Can I have the spirit of my dead lover in a hearthstone on my flaming poi fighting chains?’ And for me to be able to say ‘yes’ without reservation.

Since I’m going back to Oregon for school next month, this has to be a short-term
game. Rather than beginning a group with starting characters who are awesome by most game’s standards, able to take on armies or overthrow small countries—I decided to go towards the other end and said to my players, ‘Ok, here’s the world—here are the big crazy epic things you could do if you wanted.’ The list I gave them included the following: Fighting the Deathlord Mask of Winters and his decaying juggernaut-fortress and army of the dead as he marches on Lookshy (or aiding him); Battling the Mesoamerican-flavored Cyborg Exalted and strip-mining invaders from a pocket universe; Storming the Gates of Heaven to attend to the corrupted Celestial Bureaucracy. They decided on the latter, and thus, made characters to go to Yu-Shan and deal with the divinely addictive Games of Divinity. I gave them 100 bonus points to make their characters instead of the standard 15, so they could go up to Essence 5. We’re using Second Edition, and I’ve got all of the books available.

My characters are as such:
Lanar -- Southern-born woman of Harborhead and Chosen of the Dawn. She fights with Fire Chains (Lightning Chains with fire instead of lightning, natch). Her lover died the day of Lanar’s exaltation, and since then, she has searched for a way to bring Crimson Cinnabar back to life.
Vajra – Chosen of Zenith and ruler of Paragon after overthrowing the Perfect. Ascetic devoted ruler who bears the Ring of the Deliberative and wishes to set right the injustice in Heaven.
Kaimana – Chosen of Twilight and native of the Western islands. Sorceress of the Solar Circle and ruler of Onyx after evicting its deathlord (Silver Prince).
Dahn – Chosen of Night and redeemed Abyssal Exalt. Former servant of The Mask of Winters, she was redeemed by the other members of the circle while fighting against the invading Alchemicals. As the player of my Zenith said, gleefully,: ‘So we just took one of the other campaign options and made it into our backstory?’ Indeed.
Dusk Sky Lover – Chosen of Eclipse – whose concept is ‘Autocthonian Hooker Cowboy’ – he’s got a beamklaive, a plasma tongue repeater, and as we decided today, they’re actually one and the same. Because—why not? It’s Exalted and he has crazy Alchemical tech he got from the City-Manse Dahn took over, which was The Lap, a city built onto the lap of a immense Buddha-like statue.

I re-scaled the universe so that Essence 6 is the overall max, and thus, Essence 5 is sufficient for my circle to challenge Primordials and the Unconquered Sun and such.

Today, I started them off by giving the origin myth of the world, as it is known, and presented the problem of the corrupt celestial bureaucracy. After a quick roll, I gave Kaimana the information to get them started.

1) You need a high-powered spirit’s favor/escort to get into Yu-Shan, unless you’re an Eclipse on official business (but they can’t bring others with them).
2) The Games of Divinity are held in the Jade Pleasure dome, all the way across Yu-Shan from the gate they have access to (in/under the Lap).
3) They’ll need support in the celestial bureaucracy to make this all happen.
4) The gate to Yu-Shan wasn’t big enough to fit the Serene Guardian of Southern Stone, the alchemical manse/exalt which Dahn used as her palace/fortress.

From there, they decided to go get god’s favors. My players were awesome in coming up with their own contacts among the gods. Lanar said she was in high favor with Aegis, goddess of defense and guardswomen/men, and got her favor which would allow them to get into Yu-Shan. Vajra, Dahn, and Lanar went out into the desert to contact Gen Chu, goddess of the southern dunes, and then on a long journey south towards Gem to contact Mirage, god of Deserts. Each step of the way, I had the various gods give tidbits of info, rather than having only one of them infodump on the PCs. Dusk Sky Lover went on an epic opium bender to contact Burning Feather, Lady of Intoxicants, and got mucho information after seducing her with his l33t Alchemical Fu of ‘Lookit me, I have 7 Appearance!’. Kaimana’s player riffed off the ‘Exalted Name generator’ name she’d gotten and went to speak with the Lord of the Indigo Waves in his undersea palace made of waves upon waves deep in a crevasse northeast off the coast of Onyx. I threw a few wrenches into the mix as the PCs made pledges and found out that if they were to try to destroy the games of divinity, they’d lose a lot of support, so they decided to try to change them or find a way to get the gods off their WoW addiction (since in my game, MMORPGs are the principle metaphor I’m using for the Games.

After they’d done all their contact-ifying, they made ready to go to Yu-Shan! Cool narration about waves out of the inner sea and weird water-based space distortion, they popped into Yu-Shan in the mouth of Serene Guardian, their own Personal Voltron. They’re greeted by the drama queen Celestial Lions, who inform them that they have to get clearance to have Serene Guardian in Yu-Shan, which requires going to the bureau of Movement and Celestial Conveyance, which is several day’s travel into the Australia-sized city.

The circle picks up some minor god servants of the unemployed gods bumming around, and Dusk Sky Lover gets to use Bureaucracy-fu on the form, dueling with the red tape thrown out by Burdensome Dedication to Inane Paperwork, the censor they were dealing with at the Bureau.

The last thing we did in the session was an intro to combat, courtesy of a middle-of-the-night ambush by a circle of Sidereal Assassins. Kaimana and Lanar both had ‘save vs. surprise charms’ and were up to fight the siddies off and wake the rest of the party. Most all of the players got really into the Exalted style of combat, describing anima banners and stunting and getting into the kung-fu-ish-ness of it all, getting to bust out their inner munchkins while not sacrificing their love of good storytelling. Dusk Sky Lover used his ‘I change my personal gravity’ charm and walked up the wall backwards as he fought, then jumped ‘up’ from the ceiling to attack, while Kaimana flipped out with whip-fu, Vajra pounded heads with Perfected Kata Bracers and Solar Hero form, Dahn used her ‘bleeding bitches’ specialty with her Abyssal shadow-blade and Lanar unleashed Infinite Melee Mastery.
We ran out of time, so we wrapped it up, deciding that they killed one of the siddies, which prompted the others to ‘bamf’ out.

The game’s going really well so far, with less of the ‘err, what do we do, who are these people?’ uneasiness of most first games, probably from the effort we put into establishing the characters, their backstory, the objectives, and the relationships before we started the game. I’m glad that I have three more sessions, because it lets me get a decent buildup to the Ultimate Throwdown with the Games of Divinity themselves. I’m proud of my players for making the leap to the necessary strategy without me having to feed them too much info. Or at least, I didn’t think I was leading them along to much.

I’m also glad that we don’t have any players who are slaves to system, because I find that Exalted’s rules are more than I need for playing, which leads to me just ignoring chunks of the rules when they’re not useful to me.
Next week: Allies and Waylays.

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