Thursday, June 05, 2008

So, Exalted.

It's my normal practice to blog about any rpg session I play a day or two after it's over. I didn't do that two weeks ago with session #2 of this new Exalted campaign. And I considered passing on it again this week with session three. I'm feeling very ambivalent about this campaign so far. On the one hand, I've had some great fun. I spent session #2 romancing Ice Princess Ariel and cutting her ex-boyfriend in half with my daiklave. And this week we threw down with the Dragonblooded Mounted Police. I had a slightly better grasp on the combat system this time, and even managed to use some of my charms defensively. Best of all I got out a fairly decent Badass Posturing One-Liner before the fight began. Officer Swordmaiden instructed us to "Leave the restricted area or prepare to die." To which my caveman responded "We choose to die. I'll give you a few minutes to array your troops." The GM was either actually taken aback or roleplayed the hell out of the NPC response.

Still, I got this nagging feeling about the whole affair. Something just isn't clicking for me and I can't quite put my finger on it. Once upon a time I quipped "If it weren't for the setting and the mechanics I would really like Exalted" and now I'm starting to wonder how much I was actually joking. Maybe I like the high concept pitch for Exalted, which Geoff Grabowski once described as "It's all about Jubei fighting M. Bison for the body of Patroklos, and dammit, they can do it on top of the blood-soaked temple of the Sleestaks." But so far the specific implementation of that ideal is not completely working for me.

For example, I find the Charm system to be a little overdone. Every Charm that does 'X' says to me that I can't do 'X' without that Charm. Like when the Mounties had us out-ranged and pulled out their bows. I wanted to throw my giant effin' sword at the mooks and tear through a passle of them with a bloody aerial buzzsaw. But I knew there was a 'throw sword' Charm and I didn't have it. Maybe I should have tried it anyway, but I felt discouraged. A couple of other times I considered trying some godlike shenanigans, but I kept thinking things like "If my caveman from the North actually has to roll my survival skill in the Arctic, then clearly my guy is not half as awesome as I think he is." Maybe the part where we break the setting in half and remake it in the PCs image comes later in the campaign. Right now crossing a few hundred miles of mostly empty wilderness is so hard it takes more sessions than we've played. I honestly expected to have burned down a city or accidentally committed genocide or opened Pandora's box or something like that by this point.

And maybe the whole problem is that this system is just too damn crunchy for what I want to do. I'd much rather roll around Creation like this:

Torgo the Mighty

Achilles with a Daiklave (4) Smooth-talking Ladies Man (3) Polar Bear-Riding Caveman (2) Chief of the Mammoth Tribe (1)

Or instead of Risus, we could use TWERPS and rename Strength to Awesome. That would work.

Maybe it's the setting. Some of it seems so coy to me. Probably I'm just spoiled by Encounter Critical and Arduin and stuff like that, where if the GM wants to put something awesome in the game, there's no need to be shy about it. "You kick in the door and see Cyborg Al Capone. He's got Stormbringer in one hand and a disintegrator pistol in the other. Roll initiative, motherfucker." The Exalted fluff seems to spend a lot of time trying to pretend that it operates differently from that. I don't get it.

I think that's what it comes down to, really. Doug's not doing a bad job. Exalted is not a bad game. I just don't freakin' get it. Maybe with some more sessions under my belt I'll feel less like a stranger in a strange land.