So the Exalted hack is developing slowly but awesomely. A draft of the first few pages is up here. The neat thing about working slowly on a project is that I stumble across neat things along the way that get incorperated into it.
In this case, there have been a couple of cool RPGnet threads about how Nobilis and Primetime Adventures operate. In the latter one, I stumbled into Ashvin, who is awesome and wrote a neat Exalted hack of her own. She is now consulting on this project.
Here’s some recent conversing:
Sweet. I gave it an initial read-through just now, and I’ll read it more critically a bit later when I have time.
On first read-through, the one thing that sticks out is the First Age Concept and Name. I think this feeling comes from trying to read the progression of Names as a character’s life story. It’s not odd that the First Age is relevant, but it sortof makes an appearance at Essence 3 and then runs away.
On the other hand, I love the bit where the other players come up with your crime.
Instinctually, I’m inclined to suggest something where a character’s First Age Names occupy a separate list, and they are discovered backwards in play. So you start with your greatest Name–and your greatest crime–and as your present self becomes more powerful, you remember what it was like in the First Age, when you were merely almost-great, then almost-almost-great, and when you are standing at the edge of godhood, you remember what it was like to be simply a person, destined for great and terrible things.
There’s a symmetry there that I like. But it might be too much extra work and baggage, and I’m not sure if it’s where you want to go with the game.
Anyway! Sweet stuff so far. I shall respond more after I’ve had a chance to read it and digest it a bit more.
You’re 100% right on the First Age stuff. It was meant to be connected to your Memories which in turn are connected to your ability to use First Age artifacts. The way you describe it, working backwards from your biggest crime, is pretty hot too.
So this morning, in the shower, I was thinking about how PTA gets everyone on the same page about “what’s going on” and how that really enables players to cut loose and make shit up. So here’s some sketchy ideas:
1. Choose a Premise. What is the epic that you are telling tales from? Is it the story of a rag-tag group of reluctant heroes rescuing the Scarlet Empress?
2. Choose a few major Themes that reflect what you want the story to be about. For example: Evil Can Be Seductively Appealing, Every Bad Choice Will Come Back to Haunt You, What Does It Mean to Be a True Leader? These form the narrative boundaries of the Chronicle. Whenever you’re not sure what direction to head in next, consult one of your Themes.
3. Name Your Chronicle: “Splendid Record of the Red River Bandits.”
The Chinese epic tradition comes from oral storytellers who eventually collected their tales in written volumes after passing them down orally for generations. Oral storytelling traditions continue to exist today. Within each epic tradition there are many smaller stories that make it up. For example, the epic of The Water Margin contains stories like “Wu Song Fights the Tiger” and “Swordplay Under the Moon.”
When collected in written volumes, stories were often titled in two parts, which describe two of the major things that happen in each story. For example, in Journey to the West the stories have titles like: “The Four Seas and Thousand Mountains Tremble; In Hell, the Tenth Category is Struck from the Register.”
So here’s my thoughts about session planning. The players brainstorm a whole slew of evocative and somewhat mysterious titles:
– Fire on the Mountains
– the Venerable Sleeper Awakes
– Death Waits in the Golden City
– the Flower of Love Bursts Forth
Then they combine them into pairs and arrange them in a general order. This provides an outline of the first few sessions. Between sessions, they can rearrange the order or adjust the titles or create new ones.
Once we get to Motivations… Short-term Motivations have to do with resolving the present story. They generally only last a single story before developing into something else. Long-term Motivations are things that will only come to fruition in later stories.
One thing that’s been bothering me about name-making, which might be just me and my obsession with names, is that it’s ferociously hard to come up with them, and maybe, somewhere here in the hazy country between past lives and past atrocities, there is some support that makes that easier?
> CHRONICLE CREATION
You will have predicted this: I think this isn’t so great in its current form! BUT, let’s suppose that you link this into the characters, so that they have matching or contrasting crimes:
– did the oedipus thing with your demon mother
– haunted by the ghost of a companion you killed
That could make it a lot cooler to me, and plus, it gives you a palette of templates for fresh crimes, once you have come to terms with the one you’re currently dealing with.
> 3. Name Your Chronicle
Names come in series; this isn’t the only time you should name the chronicle.
> STORY CREATION
YES TO ALL
Well the names were supposed to be strongly connected to their associated concepts, right? So if you Exalted and managed to live three days in the belly of the beast, you might get a kenning like “Indigestable Jewel,” which would be hot. Is that not good enough for ya?
I was also thinking about a way of aestheticizing concepts. Currently, in their “Greedy Son of a Virtuous Merchant Prince” form, they’re kind of boring. And I was thinking about the way you handled traits in the original Torchbearer draft, Shreyas, as two parts, and was thinking that might work, since concepts are supposed to contain internal contradictions. It also resembles what I was thinking for Story titles. So a concept might be like:
“How He Revels in Conducting Business; The Son Counts Every Gleaming Coin”
I was wondering about tieing Themes to characters, but tieing them to past crimes is even better. Then the game really is about atonement, which is hot. However, themes are supposed to be part of what ties players and characters together, so making them individual kinda goes against that. Is there a way that themes can be collective expressions?
> Names come in series
Maybe you rename the Chronicle whenever a character increases in Essence? Or whenever all the core characters increase in Essence?
Should players re-name stories after they’ve been told? That seems to fit with the [OPEN] [/CLOSE] style of traits and names. Maybe each player renames the story to reflect their own personal perception of it? So, by consulting all the players descriptions, you end up with a fairly complete record of what happened in that tale?
Sorry, I didn’t clarify – I get blank-page syndrome at character generation. Indigestible Jewel is great, but where does the belly of the whale story come from? I think the crime, and too, the big list of atrocities to jump off from, does a lot to lift this weight, but (having not tried it), I’m not sure yet whether it’s enough.
> “How He Revels in Conducting Business;…”
That’s good. I particularly like the deliberate p
arallelism between concepts and story titles. It’s also cool how it’s expressive-but-ambiguous, which (I think) should be mandatory.
> Is there a way that themes can be collective expressions?
Yeah, I didn’t mean them to be individual; you can draw your first crime from seductive evil and your second one from lingering consequences, so that, taken as a mass, the stories are tied together. I’m not sure how you can make it more synchronic.
It’s kind of amusing to me that the game’s turning out to be about atonement; it’s really attractive and also totally unlike my past Exalted experience.
> Maybe you rename it whenever a character increases in Essence? Or
> whenever all the core characters increase in Essence?
Yeah, something like that…I don’t know about a specific implementation, but those are good starting points definitely.
> Should players re-name stories after they’ve been told?
Yeah, I think that could work. Sweet.
I really like the idea of starting out with a messy pile of story names that make seeds for play, maybe this fits somehow into the open/close structure? I see maybe like, when you name a story at the end, you also make another title-bit for a story opening, that reincorporates the story closing.
So like maybe you just played Hansel and Gretel in Exalted style, and you decide to call your closing “Witch and Fire Have an Unpleasant Meeting,” maybe you throw “The Vengeful Enchantress of Meat Mountain” on the title pile…
As you say, relating your first concepts and names to your first age crimes helps here, but perhaps not enough.
Maybe a motivation / intimacy (slash other stuff maybe) or list of some variety might be helpful here? I’m not sure what the status of those system elements are.
(Bias: I like ’em, broadly.)
The past crimes of a given character are decided by the whole group, right? That seems likely to produce a pleasingly connected effect, if only subconsciously.
It might also be helpful to ponder how crimes are revealed and closed in play. Limit breaks seem natural, but I think they’re probably too frequent. Gaining Essence is perfect, but gaining Essence seems to be the effect of finding atonement (of course, system causality could pretty happily be the inverse of in-game causality).
In either case, if the crimes are driven in some way to resemble in-game events, then the coherence of theme in in-game events will prompt more coherence of theme in the selection of crimes. (Which will, in turn… yes, yes.)
> Maybe you rename it whenever a character increases in Essence?
Possibly after every core character has closed one story? Which relates to this next bit…
> messy pile of story names
Where I second the awesomeness of story pairs, and the pile-o’-epic-titles idea, and wonder: who gets to name the closing and / or name the next story?
I kinda like the notion of each player picking a suitable closing title for the tale; each story is not simply one story, but five stories (er… n stories) within one story.
But who picks up the name for the next one?
Possibly: the group.
Possibly: whoever is the last character to complete a full traversal of the Chakram (though this is subject to how quickly we’d expect that to occur).
I have a certain fondness for the latter, because it suggests the notion that these are Solar stories, and as such, emulate the path of the sun in their narrative shape. It also heightens the perception of Limit Break as a perversion of this structure — not just metaphysically, but narratively.
me: ha, you just created a system for subplots
Shreyas: yay; i’m so smart
me: i like it, but i think people should add ideas to the pile whenever; like, if stuff comes to them during play, jot a quick note down, add it to the pile of potential stories
Shreyas: yeah, they definitely should
me: it really emphasizes that these are just excerpts from a larger set of possible stories, which also makes me think you can resolve subplots between games, or maybe as consequences of a fight; so like, you could pick up “Vengeful Enchantress” and have her alerted to your presence by something that happened during a conflict, which serves to retie old plots back into the present
Shreyas: mmm, that is very cool
me: maybe that’s how the stories get renamed; their plots change over the course of play
Shreyas: oh, very efficient
me: i’m not sure if it quite works; it’ll be interesting to see how all these things interact, and if there’s just too much stuff to keep track of; my plan is for players to never be at a loss for what to do
me: because there are a billion things that tell you where to go next, and they all kick ass
Shreyas: i think there will be a lot of good things, yeah
Plus some Anathema-relavent portions of an AIM chat with Ashi, which I don’t have a record of. But it was very cool too.