Thursday, May 08, 2008

Jeff plays Exalted

Last night Doug, one of my regular players for the last two or three years (or is it longer), ran session one of his new Exalted campaign set in the northern reaches of Creation.

Before we began play we spent about an hour gossiping about 4e and looking over Pat's new D&D Minis set. You'd have been hardpressed to find an upbeat opinion at that table, which is pretty damning. The four of us may be all D&D players, but we're all over the map in terms of playstyle preferences. Not a man jack of us is convinced that Wizards can deliver a decent online product and no one seemed real enthused about buying the corebooks next month. Doug even discussed getting off the D&D train altogether. Grim times. I hope we're all wrong.

Let me tell you about our characters. Stuart is playing Blindclaw. I don't know much about his PC other than he's some sort of witch-hunter/occult investigator and he's got kung fu with his bow. Pat's PC is modeled after his favorite 3 Kingdoms era scholar-general (Pang Po? I probably got that wrong) and goes by the name Reaper Elkwitch. Here's a dramatization of our discussion of that PC moniker.

Stuart: Reaper Elkwitch? How did you come up with that?

Pat: I plugged my own name into an online anagram gizmo. "Reaper Elkwitch" was one of the few names that came out that didn't have "Hitler" in it.

Stuart: I'm surprised you didn't go with one of the Hitlers.

Me: Uhhh, I have this rule at my table. No Hitlers.

Pat: Yeah, we see a swastika, we punch it.

Stuart: What about the swastika as used in Native American art?

Me: We'd punch it, just to be safe. Then we'd apologize.

Pat: There was one guy up on Red Lake that was a Nazi, but he offed himself.

Me: Well, yay for that.

Stuart: Alrighty then.

My character is Torgo, Chief of the Mammoth Totem Cave People and Foe-Hammer of the Wizard-Kings of the North. My destiny is to unite the twelve tribes of the cave people and overthrow the Wizard-Kings. I've got this pimped out black orichacalum grand daiklave with the pommel from Hawk the Slayer's sword.

A lot of my stats and charms go into kicking ass and taking names, but I am not playing a Dawn caste, the premier warrior class in the game. Instead, my guy is an Eclipse. Torgo was sort of a tricky Odysseus/omega wolf type prior to his exaltation, which turned him into this badass warrior. But he's still glib when he needs to be, even preternaturally so. Early in character conceptualization I considered riding around on a war-dinosaur named Boo-boo, but given the more arctic clime proposed I instead opted for a polar bear named Ooklamok. My dude also has a Manse, which is the Exalted term for your own personal Batcave. I call my place the House of Bones. It overlooks the Mammoth Graveyard, where wooly mammoths go to die, and is made out of tusks and mammoth skulls and bigass ribs and stuff.

I know what you are all thinking right now. Jeff, that is the single coolest character in the entire history of roleplaying games. And of course you're right. How could I disagree with all of my readers, who are classy sophisticates like myself? Unfortunately, I couldn't quite shake the feeling all night that Torgo was an utter fraud. I kept thinking to myself that Torgo is awesome by rules fiat, not through any accomplishment on my part. My gut keeps telling me that the only way I could really make Torgo work would be to start out with a first level Cave Man Rogue (or whatever) and to earn all that awesome-osity. Anything else feels like cheating.

Anyway, the session itself was a fairly standard "let's get the PCs together and try out the combat system" affair. Traveling north to investigate rumours of rogue occult activity, Reaper and Blindclaw began the session aboard an airship. A pair of Dragonblooded warriors riding a flaming pterodactyle or something like that intercept the ship, forcing it down where they have a large group of chump soldiers gathered. At one point Doug couldn't decide whether to call the soldiers "mooks" or "extras", so he invented the new term "mookstras". One of the Dragonblooded, who I imagined as Darth Vader in Red Jade armor and on fire, leaps onto the gondola of the airship and starts kung fuing with Stuart and Pat.

My dude comes riding over the hill and sees the soldiers approaching the airship. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I'm just a cave man. Your modern Exalted world frightens and confuses me. Cave people don't have "soldiers", we have "warriors". The only guys I know who keep soldiers on the payroll are those pesky Wizard-Kings. So I decide they need to be killerfied. While I am slaying the mookstras with only half-hearted effort, the second Dragonblooded (an archer chick riding the phoenix or whatever) starts peppering me with arrows. So I use one of my Charms to anime leap from the back of my warbear up to the roc flying overhead. The gal with the bow pulls out a sword and we proceed to have a swordfight on top of the flaming thunderbird.

Now Stuart, who has played Exalted before, was so kind as to build my PC for me. He noted on my charsheet that my un-Charmed defenses were weak. Man, he was not kidding. This dame started whupping on me pretty bad. But for her part she ended up hurt bad enough that she decided to brick and pulled her fiery battlebird into tricky maneuver to attempt to throw me. I opted to bail rather than play that game much longer, landing on the gasbag of the airship and neatly rolling onto the back of my bear, who spent this whole time mauling soldiers. Meanwhile, Stuart and Pat had worked out the teaming-up rules sufficiently that Darth Jader was in a world of hurt. He tried to flee on foot but Stuart's bow has way to much range for that to work out. At that point we packed it in.

After one session of this stuff I still pretty much believe that dice pools are the Devil's game mechanics, but rolling big handfuls of dice can be lots of fun. The Charm mechanics were fun, very reminiscent of the kung fu powers in Feng Shui. My biggest problem with the system is that to-hits and damage both involve rolling die pools for successes. That tended to muddle the operations in my mind. I didn't have that problem with In Harm's Way: Aces in Spades, but here I was constantly tripping over myself.

Overall I'm not yet sold that this game rocks as hard as its promoters claim, but I'm willing to give it another session.


  1. wulfgar11:53 AM


    Does he have gigantic knees?

    If you have no idea what I'm talking about you need to watch the MST3K episode "Manos: Hands of Fate". It's horrible and hilarious all at the same time.

  2. Why do you think my guy wears a trenchcoat made of mammoth hide? To conceal his misshapen legs!

  3. Wait, he's a caveman with a warbear, a daiklave, and a trenchcoat?!?

    Dude, he is the quitz-hack-paddy-wack! ;D

    - Brian

  4. JamesV1:41 PM

    I gotta say that you're definitely playing the game right, if such a thing can possibly said about any game. As someone who has run and is playing Exalted and having fun with it, there is one important thing to keep in mind.

    *Your character is the most bestest awseomest character in the whole wide world*

    play your PC that way with the proper tuning for serious or goof levels and enjoy the concentrated ridiculous. Your fight on the firebird is a great example.

    My favorite personal experience is when I was running it and the PCs to defeated a praticulary tough sorceror who was getting away, by one character taking another, running at full speed and throwing him like a javelin.

    Just sit back and enjoy whatever crazy kung-fuery you can come up with.

  5. Ooklamok. Very nice! Tell me, does this Exalted world have... super-science?

  6. Blindhawk, actually

  7. jum: The dinosaurs that pee heroin have to come from somewhere.

    stuart: Sorry 'bout that.

  8. About your character having unearned (on your part) awesomeness --

    Just think of it like Batman. You're starting in the middle of the story. You're not playing him from the Crime Alley shooting and onwards; you're playing him at the height of his power and skillz.

    "I'm just a cave man. Your modern Exalted world frightens and confuses me."

    Man, you're too funny. Diet Pepsi came out my nose.

  9. Hmmm. The description of gameplay intrigues me, especially as it sounds like something that my girlfriend would enjoy. Lots of dice can be cool, very cool, as thje WEG Star Wars proved. This game now bears more investigation on my part; like yourself, I've mostly avoided the White Wolf games over the years.

    As for playing a low-level Torgo, you should work up a 1st level Caveman Rogue for the Wilderlands (don't use the version in the Player's Guide; I'll send you the revised version from the upcoming Revised PGW if you are interested). Then you will have it ready to go next time we meet and I can run him through the City State...

  10. I know what you are all thinking right now.

    Actually, I was thinking "He's a what on the who with the whatsit and the huh?"

    Even when I've written for White Wolf, i've never been able to speak White Wolf :)

    ... but for the rest, I think I grok entirely. And for my own part, I make a pretty sharp distinction between a starting character being very powerful (something I accept as a given for many campaigns, and can enjoy just fine) and a starting character being conspicuously whiz-bang groovy-cool (something that always sits the wrong way with me unless it's meant to be funny), especially when it's a "given."

    I'm by no means a Horatio Alger gamer myself (see GURPS Black Ops, for starters), but I guess I have enough Horatio in me to cause that reaction.

  11. I have yet to meet someone who would adventure with:
    Hitler Ape Wreck,
    We Repack Hitler, or
    Hitler Crap Week, nor is down with the Hitler Peak Crew, but I would sack Hitler Craw Keep.

    And my favorite general is actually Wei Yan, but I love Pang Tong, because his career path is: Advise Liu Bei to attack his uncle ---> Die in an ambush.
    Rest in peace, Fledgling Phoenix.

  12. Personally, I think Pat should go with Fledgling Phoenix instead of Reaper Whatshisfargingname.

    To clarify, I wasn't talking so much getting off the D&D train as getting off the tabletop train altogether.

  13. Settembrini9:24 AM

    My "campaign about to implode" sense is tingling!

  14. As a newcomer to RPGs, I'm curious why dice pools are hated to much. Is it just the tedium of counting so many dice, or is there some statistical or mathematical reason?

  15. Personally, I find it a hell of a lot harder to figure out what my chances of doing anything are.

  16. I never touched the West End Star Wars after reading a review alongside a character sheet. So, he has 3D+1 in blaster, is that good or bad?

    Frankly, it's been over a decade since I've touched a statistics book, but the inherent 60% fail rate of a 7-in-10 target seems bad to me.
    I know there's a 10% double success in there, but still.