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[Exalted: Actual Play] How my Sidereals game works

Mengtzu

Another Kill Team...
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This is mostly for the benefit of Sigilistic, but I figured some other folks might be interested too, so rather than emailing it to him I've posted it here.

My Sidereals campaign has been running for about eight sessions now, which is probably roughly half-way (or perhaps a little more) of its lifespan. The game is somewhat unconventional, but there are probably a few techniques or ideas in there that will be of use to other Sidereal STs.


Firstly, the set-up for the campaign was that in a matter of weeks, following a Grand Convocation of the 50 most powerful and wise of the Sidereal Exalted held during Calibration five years after the Empress' disappearance, each and every attendent of that Convocation died under mysterious and highly varied circumstances. Suddenly, all of Destiny was in the hands of journeymen and apprentices of fate, young Exalted with at most a few centuries under their belts, perhaps one or two remembering the dying days of the Shogunate. The Bronze and Gold Factions scrabbled for power in the sudden vaccum, and the already dismal proportion of unaligned Chosen of the Stars dwindled as many joined a side to avoid being left out.

The PCs were only recently out of training, with little experience in the field, but with few options at her disposal, Lucita, senior Chosen of the Golden Barque and head of the Gold Faction, moved most of her field agents out of the "safe" Convention of Wood in order to use them against the Bronze elsewhere, and installed the largely unaligned PCs in the job. Hence, while distantly supervised by Lucita, the PCs were solely responsible for Destiny in the entire East. More freedom than is typical for Sidereals, but enormous responsibility.

A number of house-rules were in place at the beginning:


The Mercy of Heaven Saves the Loyal Servant Plan
Due to a stunning and unprecedented feat of astrology lead by Janusz Han, the sole member of the Silver Faction, no Sidereal is fated to be killed by a single blow while still concious - they may only be killed by a coup-de-gras attack. Janusz Han is currently recovering from the worst Pattern Spider bite on record.

The Sorrowful Empty Dojo Situation
The great masters of the Martial Arts have fallen, and many of the oldest arts are lost. No character could have a Sifu rating of greater than 3.

The Grinding Gears of Destiny Scandal
Vastly overworked, the functionaries of the Loom, right up to the Pattern Spiders themselves, are having great difficulty processing requests and prayers. Astrology is restricted to downtime, never in play.

The Disasterous Misplacement of the Golden Lights
No character could begin the game with backgrounds relating to the Solar Exalted - the location of the Gold-Friendly Solars was held on a need-to-know basis by the Gold Faction, and at the start of the game, everyone who "needed to know was dead" - leaving many who actually needed to know and didn't.


I railroaded (in that I mandated the mission, though the actual details were the PC's problem ;)) the first couple of sessions just to get everyone started:


Session 1&2: He Who Devours Patriotism and The Meticulous Steward

The game began with the sight of the Lookshy Rebel, roaring political slogans from its many mouths, crushing a talon of young Lookshy Dragon-blooded with its makeshit club - a handy lightpost. However, rising up the freight elevator from the docks below were four agents of the Bureau of Destiny, and things began with a bang. The PCs defeated the rebel, after much investigation tracked its origin (and the mystical forces bolstering it considerably), to a group of Cataphractoi working magics from a boat in the docks, lead by a powerful Fae known as He Who Devours Patriotism. After a deadly battle, finished by Kai, the PC Chosen of Mecury, driving the boat into an iron-smelting plant on the docks, the PCs set about finding a base for themselves in Lookshy. Eventually they discovered a hideout once belonging to Ayesha Ura, former head of the Gold, inside the Deheleshen Lighthouse, and evidence that she was supplying Solars with powerful artifacts with which to attack Thorns.

At which point, they saw on the distant horizon the flash of Essence from Thorns, and the city on fire. Arriving there several days later, they found everything overgrown with remnants of the Benediction of Archgenesis, the corpses of destroyed undead and mortal and Dragon-Blooded soldiers alike where they fell in battle against each other, and the artifacts of the Mask of Winters. Juggernaught was missing, seemingly vanished in its tracks. The PCs returned the artifacts of the Mask to Heaven, disposing of the artifacts of his Deathknights in the Inner Sea on their way.

Session 3: The Orrery of Madness

Advised that causality was apparently breaking down throughout the Guild Headquarters and Harlotry in Nexus, Kai and Cadias (the PC Chosen of Saturn) popped through the Nexus Gate to investigate. They found all activities relating to commerce there slowly unwinding, with figures refusing to add up the same way twice, inventory depleting when nothing was sold and remaining full when it was flying off the shelves, and the bureacracy of the guild itself breaking down. Investigations traced the problems back to envoys of House Ragara that had arrived to seal a marriage with a daughter of a high ranking Guild Merchant Prince with a betrothal gift of a marvelous orrery of the Magical Materials. Sure enough, the orrery was damaging the fate of commerce in the area, and after destroying it, the PCs went hunting for the Ragara - only to find they were Bronze Faction under resplendent destinies, their rivals Forgotten Auspice and Infinitely Wicked Dilemma.

Not wanting witnesses, the Bronze attacked, intent on killing the PCs, and a really nifty combat in a glass bridge between Harlotry and Guild Headquarters ensued that increased my respect for Rebecca Borgstrom's mechanical aptitude (essentially, Sidereal charms are much more balanced than they look, and Sidereals are just as fragile and prone to running out of Essence as we were assured they were). The PCs, though outgunned in XP, defeated their foes handily, though the Mercy of Heaven Saves the Loyal Servant Plan kept the Bronze alive. Unsurprisingly, the Bronze wriggled out of charges of attempted murder, but the day belonged to the PCs.


After these sessions, the more interesting part - the mission system - opened up. Continued below...
 

Mengtzu

Another Kill Team...
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In Sigilistic's thread, I described the mission structure as follows:


Well, my Sidereal campaign is a little unconventional, but to simulate the fact that they're employees, yet still give them control over the flow of things, I use a bidding/bribery system for mission-based play.

I'll write up a bunch of missions, each one having a letter of instructions from the Sidereal or God requesting the mission, a sealed envelope with my session notes in it, and a reward card, which they can trade in on successful completion of the mission for the rewards mentioned on it - usually artifacts, manses, specific favours, extra backgrounds and the like. I put all that in an envelope, give it a deadline, and then draw five sets of coloured stars on the front - Yellow for travel distance/general importance of Journeys, Blue for the likely amount of socialising, Red for the amount of action, Green for the amount of puzzles/investigation/occult, and purple for the rough chance of character death (all rated one to five).

Since generally the PCs don't have time to do all the missions, a combination of what sounds coolest to them, and which division assigned the heftiest/most useful (from the players' POV) reward actually gets done. They're working within the bounds of the Bureau, they're even introduced to its corruption, but they get to control the flow and direction of the game while they're at it.

They also have nice tacticle props, and a pile of envelopes marking their achievements.

To clarify slightly - the PCs are allowed to open the envelopes, and read the instruction letter and reward card (that's how the system of Divisions and other entities bribing Conventions to get their pet missions done works!), but once they confirm they want to do a specific mission, and I rip open my sealed envelope of GM notes, then they're committed.

The GM notes themselves are all on index cards - usually some dot-points of how things are likely to work out, the beginning situation the PCs will find on arriving at whatever location etc. These aren't terribly detailed in my case - I generally keep only loose notes. Most of the cards have stats for major NPCs, stock extra stats, vehicle stats or Mail & Steel unit stats. Having these things on index cards is super-useful (I generally use big cards for NPCs and little cards for extras, vehicles and units, so I can stack cards and still see what's what) - it makes referencing things very fast, and I've found that I've been able to use more and more rules with less fudging without losing speed (I used to fudge charms I couldn't remember for instance - now I write tiny notes beside each relevant charm on the back of an Exalt's card).

This takes a little longer to prepare, but I've found by doing it for this game, and also a little Solar game I'm running right now (session in about three hours, actually), I can reuse a *lot*, occaisionally shifting equipment or a few charms. This works extremely well for younger or less powerful dragon-blooded, since they have few charms and often die before anyone can figure out they're stock NPCs (I used to have a trick of preparing a number of Dragon-Blooded personalities, and only handing them out to survivors ^_^).


Below I'll include all the PC handouts for The Worrisome Desolation of Blackwatch Redoubt, the mission chosen by the PCs in Session 4.
 

Mengtzu

Another Kill Team...
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The Worrisome Desolation of Blackwatch Redoubt

Yellow: ****
Blue: *
Red: ***
Green: *
Violet: ***


{This was an early mission - the star system is refined somewhat now. The four yellow stars reflects the distance from any Gates, which was significant, but Sidereals are much more mobile and sneaky than I thought. Now four stars would indicate less distance, and more a strong need for say the Sail or Ride skills - last session was 4 yellow, and involved *many* Sail rolls. Likewise, I'd now rate this mission 0 blue, since there was no real scope for socialising}

Maiden of the Shelf said:
Convention of Wood:

- Causality broken at Blackwatch Redoubt, secret Lookshy fortress.
- West of Larjyn, 2 weeks travel with Journeys Caste by any means but air.
- Risk of battle high.
- Senior officers of the Crimson Panoply taking interest.

Signed,

Maiden of the Shelf
The instruction letters show the personality of senior Sidereals or Gods in various divisions - in this case, the Maiden of the Shelf is a very terse, military minded individual, whereas missions assigned by Azure Blossom of Sashwan Uuwai of the Cerulean Lute tend to be much more verbose.


Crimson Panoply of Victory said:
REWARD CARD

On successful completion of The Worrisome Desolation of Blackwatch Redoubt , the CRIMSON PANOPLY OF VICTORY will release to THE CONVENTION OF WOOD one of the following to each agent involved:

- 1 Direlance
- Training in 1 Celestial Martial Art
- 1 Contract with the Sun Lions (mercenary company run by a rogue Celestial Lion)
- Ambrosia equal to a Salary Grade 4 purchase


The PCs got around the travel distance very cleverly - they pooled their Salaries to bribe a senior member of the Bureau of Nature to have the course of a river diverted much closer to Blackwatch Redoubt, then used Sail Charms to get there quickly. I ran the rest of the session as horror bleeding slowly into action, as they investigated the silent and abandoned Lookshy fortress, with creepy things like rows of Gunshoza armour worn by corpses standing to attention but not attacking moving on to suits of Dragon Armour vigorously fighting the PCs while being worn by corpses that did nothing but loll about inside. Finally, they found the cause of the problem - Gerversin, the Grieving Lord, who had lead the forged and manufactured things of the redoubt in rebellion against all things flesh. They were too late to stop him from transporting a Thousand Forged Dragon into the sands of Ceccelyne, but were able to destroy him in desperate and furious battle before he could escape himself.

The battle was observed by a mysterious Fae calling herself the scorekeeper, who played a flute whose somber music was sound stolen from all things around her. She seemed related to the mysterious "Tourney of Gossamer and Brass" that they had recovered a few hints about.

Derek, the PC Chosen of Mars, fought valiantly, but was struck down by Gervesin, saved only by the Mercy of Heaven Saves the Loyal Servant Plan - not before his entire skeleton was turned to green glass, however, requiring its later replacement in heaven.


Having succeeded, the PCs chose the following rewards:

Kai: Direlance, traded later for a reinforced buff jacket.
Cadias: Contract with the Sun Lions
Derek: Contract with the Sun Lions
Brilliant Beacon: Ambrosia (my notes say he took this, though I don't remember him at the session - odd...)


Generally, the missions have increased in reward, danger and plot since then , though I've kept a variety of different mission types available. Heavy socialising missions have proved unpopular, mostly because the Circle lacks a Chosen of Venus and isn't heavily skilled in the area - though they've made some nifty social stunts and improved their stats in the area in support of other types of mission.

I'll post short summaries of the rest of the sessions below for interest's sake.
 
K

Kenshiro

Guest
Wow...

Sidereals make me want to kick them in the pants, but your game makes me want to play them...
 

Mengtzu

Another Kill Team...
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Kenshiro said:
Wow...

Sidereals make me want to kick them in the pants, but your game makes me want to play them...

It's going really well.

The weird thing is I still wouldn't be caught dead playing a Sidereal, but I'm having a blast running them.

I suppose it's because this way, I don't have to deal with the obnoxious NPCs ^_^
 

Arbane the Terrible

11th-level Minion
Validated User
Kasumi said:
Brilliant Beacon: Ambrosia (my notes say he took this, though I don't remember him at the session - odd...)
I thought STs aren't supposed to be affected by Arcane Fate? :D

I'll post short summaries of the rest of the sessions below for interest's sake.
Please do! This is quite cool.
 
K

Kenshiro

Guest
Yeah, in the Exalted game I played a while back, we had a Sidereal player who pulled off the character perfectly.

And he was playing the Fist of the North Star.

Your game looks like Mission: Impossible and Journey to the West combined! *sigh* So much cool stuff, and I'm not even in the same continent...
 

Mengtzu

Another Kill Team...
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The first three missions offered to the PCs were the following:

The Worrisome Desolation of Blackwatch Redoubt (detailed above)

The Curious Rathessian Speculation Affair (Yellow **, Blue *, Red ****, Green *, Violet **) - preventing Resplendent in a Victory of Himself, a powerful fae, from destroying an ancient financial projection machine in Rathess, which is serving as a suppresent to the Wyld in the area. Standard Indiana Jones/chase-scene stuff.

The Troublesome Anomaly of Sijan (Yellow *, Blue ***, Red **, Green ***, Violet **) - tangles in Destiny apparently resolving themselves in Sijan, despite Abyssal activity.

The Twice Golden Imperative (Gold Faction Mission - yellow envelope) - (Yellow *, Blue ****, Red **, Green **, Violet **) - locate and make alliance with the Solars who destroyed Thorns.



Of the official missions, only the first was completed by the PCs - however, rather cleverly, they used their Mercenary contracts rewards, along with some hefty bribery, to complete the Rathessian mission. The Sijanese Anomaly I believe was primarily ignored because it lacked a deadline, though it made for interesting consequences later. The plot was that the Bureau of Heaven had strike teams in place to solve problems in destiny as a prelude to taking over the weakened Bureau of Destiny in a deal with the Bronze - the Abyssal in question was their target, but far too powerful for them. As a result of the PCs ignoring the mission, the strike team was destroyed by the Abyssal, and not only were the PC's later meetings with this Abyssal friendly, but the BoH and Bronze staged later tests under more controlled circumstances - which of course the PCs intercepted. This later situation was (much) more dangerous for the PCs, but gave them a much better opportunity to catch the Bronze and BoH out.

The Gold Faction mission was kept quiet by the only Gold Faction PC, but he subtly steered the convention towards actuall fulfilling it - this came to fruition later, however.


The next two missions to land were:

The Audacious Infiltration of the Cold House (Yellow ***, Blue *, Red **, Green ***, Violet ****) - Black Ice Shadow, one of the atendees of the Grand Convocation, has been located thanks to the efforts of Kai - however, he is held in the Cold House, bastion of the rebellious deathknights of the slain Deathlord Eye and Seven Despairs. Recover him at all costs.

The Delicate Matter of the Five Thunders (Yellow *, Blue ****, Red *, Green *, Violet **) - Having discovered the fate of Blackwatch Redoubt, and that its Thousand Forged Dragon is missing, the resurgent neo-Shogunate faction of Lookshy has prevailed over the conservative heads of the General Staff, and is planning to reactivate the Five Thunders Sentai of warstriders, deep in their arsenal. Something terrible will happen if this comes to pass.


The PCs chose the Cold House mission for Session 5 - they managed to sneak past the nemissary guards, spy on the rebellious deathknights (only to discover they knew virtually nothing, and that only the rarely-present Crone Reborn in the Seduction of Terror used the mansion's basement), and then persuade the mansion's ghosts to help direct them to the Labrynth below. There they defeated warstrider-clad Nemissaries guarding a free-standing soulsteel door (Cadias breaking the string on a soulsteel warstrider powerbow in order to catapult himself through the powerbow's wielder), and found the door lead to a balcony over the Well of the Void, where Black Ice Shadow was chained up. They were about to make their escape when the Crone and her concubine, Star of Dirt and Doubt, discovered them.

However, rather than violence, the situation was surprisingly friendly - Star of Dirt and Doubt revealed herself to be in fact Eye and Seven Despairs, and issued a warning - the Deathlords were hunting each other, House Ledaal and the Solars. If the Sidereals stayed out of their way, there would be no trouble, else the remaining Chosen of the Stars would be extinguished. The PCs were happy with this arrangement, but upon delivering Black Ice Shadow back to heaven, they found the Unfailingly Vigilant and Inevitably Victorious Comission into the Great Calamity had firmly fixed the blame for the death of the Siderals on the Deathlords (yaaay, Great Curse!) and most of Black Ice Shadow's evidence was ignored.


For Session Six, the PCs chose to complete the Five Thunders Mission, but having located the Solars, decided to have a chat with them first (and, largely unbeknownst to them, fulfil the Gold Faction mission). The five Solars had been trained to monstrous power by Ayesha Ura, who was convinced she could control them, in order to take out the Deathlords one after another. Their Dawn, Miyako, had even been trained in the Charcoal March of Spiders and Prismatic Arrangement of Creation style, and raised to Elder Essence with the Endowment charm - a scandal that none of the PCs were too happy about. They agreed, however, to escort Fatima, the Zenith, into Lookshy's arsenal to recover Miyako's first age grave goods, and in return, Miyako would not use the Sidereal Arts without permission (or "guidance"). Rukh, the Night Caste, warned them they were being spied on by Celestial Exalted with Immaculate followers - clearly Bronze. Rather than confront them, the PCs made the Lesser Sign of Mercury and quickly moved to the docks. This left the Bronze reasonably sure the Solars were in Nexus, which would later have dire consequences.

Arriving in Lookshy, the PCs set about the Five Thunders mission, which turned out to be the very best demonstration of the fact the star ratings were the respective divisions' *predictions* of circumstances, rather than hard facts. Having entered the arsenal with Resplendent destines, manipulated the Conservative observers against the neo-Shogunate engineers and taimyo in order to gain a delay, and arranged to inspect the warstriders themselves, it looked like a great Blue/Green mission of socialising and problem solving. While trying to sabotage the warstriders, though, Brilliant Beacon (chosen of Jupiter with high Savant) failed first a roll to recall any legends about Five Winds Fury, a jade Royal Warstrider, and then a roll to percieve the Unformed Fae posessing it - the first he knew about it was when it closed around him and activated.

The social/problem solving mission turned instantly into a massive brawl against an incredibly powerful warstrider that could invert the elements (its first act was to turn the air of the hangar into water). The PCs only narrowly survived - especially Beacon, who was trapped largely defenceless in a warstrider cockpit filled with lightning, trying to drag its hearthstone out with his bare hands.

Neat session. ^_^

The next session, though, was crazier, and very long for me, as the PCs did two sessions and two big missions back-to-back.
 

Andrew Sheeler

Crime Fighter
Validated User
That is really cool, Kasumi. Thanks a lot.

Well, we did chargen last night for both our WoD-Vampire game and our Sidereals game.

We've got a:

A Serenity Zen Artist

A Battles Demon Hunter

A Secrets Substitute Instructor

An Endings Bounty Hunter

Our Serenity was inspired in part by Hero's Broken Sword, while our Secrets was more than a little inspired by Volcano High's substitute teachers (you know, the one who kicks your ass in your own dream if he catches you daydreaming?).



The basic backstory is this:

The Bureau of Destiny is being overrun. In all five directions, things are quite literally going to Hell, and Kejak can stand to see it no longer. Moved by his own increasingly short lifespan, Kejak astounds everybody when he announces a special, cross-Faction plan to form a new Convention: The Apocalypse Convention. The amazing part comes when he fills the convention with not his fellow ancients, nor the most experienced non-senior agents, but with rank beginners. Compelled by the sad facts of his generation's limited lifespan and the middle generation's self-absorbtion, Kejak filled the Apocalypse Convention with the most promising young Sidereals he could find. Sadly, with the extreme shortages in all directions, he was able to find only four of them, not even a full circle. Alas, but it would have to do.

Assembled and personally mentored by Kejak, these four would handle perhaps the most interesting of assignments: those that the other Conventions either couldn't, or wouldn't, deal with. To that end, the Apocalypse Convention would not be limited to a single direction, but would rather handle events all over Creation.

The following chargen modifications are in place:

* All players start with Sifu 5. They are tutored by none other than the best himself, for what little time he remains with them.

* All players start with Celestial Manse 4, their office. The Hearthstones are broken down into 4 level 1's that allow them to communicate with each other so long as they remain on the same level of existance (i.e. Yu-Shan, Creation, Malfeas, the Wyld, Autocthonia, or the Underworld)

* There is no set faction. While Kejak would prefer capable Bronzes, it just isn't feasible to expect to fill the Convention with them, without weakening other, vital areas in turn.

* I'm using Kasumi's mission-choice system. His AWESOME system. After a bit of a prelude bringing them together, I'll start by giving them 5 missions to choose from. Each week, I'll add from 1 to 3 missions to the docket.

* The players can split up and attempt to do multiple missions at once, but if they do so, each one will take place on it's own session night and the Sidereals not present will have to make temporary PCs. (this should add a bit of variety to things).

* Every now and then, a mission will come to them from on high that will force them to set aside whatever they're doing and focus on that. These will be the Story Arc missions, the ones that significantly move the story further.


The overall thrust of the story is to deal with the Return of the Demon Empress, but that she is simply the greatest of their problems, not the only one. They'll have to handle other jobs as well and still somehow come up with a way to counter her return.

One final note, I loved Hero so much, and I especially loved it's use of color. I intend to use color when narrating scenes to convey moods, themes, and ideas. Further, this works really well for Sidereals, who are built on a color scheme to begin with (Gold, Cerulean, Crimson, Ivy, and Violet). They'll tend to dress in shades and hues appropriate to their caste.


One last time, thanks a bunch Kasumi for this most inspiring idea!
 
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