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[Exalted: Actual Play] The Garden of Jade Roses

Mengtzu

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Actually, it's not actual play yet, but it will be soon, and I figure since I've started to prepare, I figured I'd begin an Actual Play thread to impel me to add content to it.

So, this is the Actual Play thread for the sequel to my Sidereals game, wherein amazingly prodigious Dragon Blooded children will attend a bizzare and esoteric school while engaging in ritualised duelling societies for the Destiny of the Shogun. Obviously inspired by Revolutionary Girl Utena ^_^



To start things off, I'll post some of the notes I'm compiling, which is really a draft of advice/social contract for my players, but if you're looking for Real Actual Play, come back in a month or two ^_^
 

Mengtzu

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The Garden of Jade Roses - Notes.



1. The assertions of NPCs and organisations are just that. Nobody will be telling you the unblemished objective truth because nobody comes equipped with it. Everyone has an agenda. Everyone is subject to making misinterpretations, and everybody is getting misinformation to some degree. The degree to which this pushes you towards paranoid mistrust of everyone around is entirely your own affair - certainly many in the Realm and Yu-Shan alike take such an approach!

As a political game, there are no absolute truths at stake or discoverable here. The school itself gives a very Sidereal impression of the reality of Creation, but one need look no further than the agenda of Azure Blossom for an explanation. The Sidereals themselves, while inarguably people of extraordinary ability, have proven themselves to be driven by short-term political agendas in the past, and willfully resistant to the suggestion that their analysis of a situation might be incorrect. While the Sidereal members of the Garden's Faculty are (necessarily) few, they are absolutely affected by the Great Curse.

So when someone tells you they're better than you or know far much more than you, remember they're pushing their own ego or agenda, not revealing some grand truth.

As a particular note, for those of you very familiar with the Exalted setting, I'll be making a particular effort not to make any statements about the setting in this game - if something is happening contrary to your expectations or desires, it should be because you're having a disagreement with how an NPC is shaping matters, rather than disagreeing with me. While I may or may not agree with the NPC in question, you should be able to do something about it, or at the very least have an appropriate target for smouldering resentment. Where possible, everything happening will be the result of tools extant in the setting - though given custom charms and the powerful allies many NPCs are able to call on, that still leaves me with a lot of slack :) For instance, you might find a lot of what goes on at the school contrary to your normal expectations of how the Dynasty functions - rest assured it will be contrary to the expectations of many of the students and their parents, and the fact that it's happening at all is due to the investment of certain resources by the Faculty - whether those investments are wise or necessary remains to be seen.

2. Heroes. This word will likely get thrown about quite a bit. By default (OOC more or less), we're talking a "classical" definition of Hero, which has no particular moral component, referring instead to pivotal, exceptional individuals who are larger than life. This status carries with it a well-known mechanical benefit (stunts, 10s as two successes and a full compliment of Health Levels). This is a real state in the setting, and most people are aware of it - it's likely the Faculty has a definitive list of the students that are Heroic from the appropriate Celestial office. However, the term "Hero" will also be slung about for a variety of purposes not matching this definition - such as by the Faculty to refer to the Dragon Blooded children of particularly spectacular destiny who become Duelists, or by virtually anyone to enhance the reputation of someone they find politically convenient. While your characters will absolutely match both the definition and the Faculty's usage, remember point #1 when people use this potentially loaded word, even about you.

In general, I'll be avoiding morality - I'll be presenting many heroic characters, with their virtues and failings open to interpretation. Make common cause with Mnemon and bitter enmity with House Nellens if that is what you feel best - you're opinion on who is virtuous and who is corrupt is as worthwhile as anyone elses'.

3. Combat and other character abilities. While it's by no means unusual for my games, this is a game in which combat will play a pivotal role. Assuming the plans of the Faculty to have you engage in ritualised duels for the Destiny of the Shogun aren't derailed early, you can expect any investment in combat ability to be worthwhile, and at least *some* investment to be necessary. However, your opponents will be young Dragon Blooded, some less powerful, some prodigies of considerable ability, but no veterans. Nobody is planning to have you fight Celestials (even if you make enemies who scheme to ship you off to the Wyld Hunt, they'll let you graduate rather than yanking you out of the classroom and tossing you into hand-to-hand combat with Miyako). There will be no Deathlords, Second Circle Demons, Fae (unless something really cool pops up in the relevant book, but even then we're talking cameo) or other staples of Celestial combat. Even if you end up being ambushed outside the duelling fields, find yourselves fighting monsters or an out-of-control demon, or some other unforseen scenario, these fights will not have the same stakes - they will not affect your quest to become Shogun.

This is, of course, subject to the survival of the Faculty's plan. While my plan for the progress of the campaign is nearly identical to Azure Blossom's, I have vastly less confidence in its success than she.

Given the game's setting, social prowess and other tools of intrigue (investigation, bureacracy and larcency spring to mind) should also be very worthwhile. They should be useful in both their own contexts, and also in materially affecting the duels themselves. However, you will need to be more proactive with these abilities than combat ones - that is to say the opportunities to use them will not be signalled so clearly, though I promise to support them. They may even be more potent than combat abilities, though they're not quite as "safe" in terms of guaranteed payoffs.

Other abilities I will not promise to support, but I will be receptive to proactive use. If you want to invest in Ride and Sail, make sure you have ideas about how to get value out of them, because I won't guarantee opportunities. You will need to make opportunities for yourselves - I will do my best to be receptive, but some (like Survival) are going to be tall orders.

As for character creation, you're pretty much normal Dragon Blooded - don't use the rules for child characters, you are spectacular prodigies with exceptional destinies. Don't feel burdened by the idea of making a "well rounded character" - specialists are easier for me to GM, and you're supposed to become rounded at school, not start that way! Try not to step on each others' niches.

4. Motivation. Everybody else has an agenda - you should have one, or be on the way to getting one! Having an interest in the power of the Shogun is important (but you don't necessarily need to want it for yourself), and it should be believeable for you to work with the other characters rather than NPC cliques - while I could just have Azure bundle you together and mutter something about auspiciousness, I promise that the other cliques will most certainly try to take advantage of any disunity. That being said, there's no necessity for it to be all happiness and light - your bond only need last until the other cliques are defeated (if anybody is uncomfortable with the idea of other PCs possibly stabbing them in the back in the final session and making off with the Shogunate, now would be the time to speak up).

Of course, it's not necessary for you to be entirely sympathetic to the Faculty's plan, though admittedly there's a lot in it for you.

5. Current Events - I haven't absolutely decided how long after the defeat of Pherenike the game begins, but I'm thinking five years. In many respects it'd be helpful for me to have a fair bit of time between the games, but I'd prefer for events to be still shaping, the great forces of the world still gathering, so that your characters can rise to meet them in time. The Realm's grip on the world has been greatly weakened, but not shattered - the rise of Cathak Cainan to the throne under the auspices of the Gold Faction was, in the short term, an excellent move, a powerful stabilising force, and while he went about the process of stabilisation, he reluctantly put aside any expansionist ideas - as a result, the other powers of the world turned their attention to other matters, like the long process of recovering from the final months of the Tourney of Gossamer and Brass (it's also likely the Electrum Faction has been a stabilising influence on Creation, but I can't really speak for them). However, as clever as enthroning Cainan was in the short term, his star is in Saturn's House now, and there is a growing feeling in Yu-Shan that Lucita and Azure elevated him mostly because Kejak wouldn't. In the Realm, the mighty see that behind his iron-hard facade, the Emperor is fading, and they begin to mobilise. Mnemon and the Roseblack are among the most probable leading figures in the race for the soon-to-be-empty throne, though Cainan's elevation was a shock to many, so no-one can be discounted.

The Realm is most assuredly riddled with corruption and decadence, and stands on the brink of civil war. The Scavenger Lands, the Near South, Halta and the lands controlled by the Bull of the North are resurgent, growing mighty under Solar leadership, but those who say the Realm is fundamentally rotten and the Solar governance virtuous are generally the Solars themselves or their adherents. Both circumstances could be easily seen to be a result of the Empresses' leaving the throne and the unhibited exercise of Celestial power. Some in Yu-Shan feel that the Gold are compounding the mistakes of the Bronze rather than repairing them - Lucita is demonstrably allowing the Immaculate Order to decay, but shows no evidence of having taken the extremely widespread and often intense faith of the peasents into account.

Much of this is unknown to your characters, of course. In general, children and young adults are expected to be more attentive to the task of making themselves into model servants of the Realm than to the vicissitudes of current affairs, and as such are kept somewhat sheltered, at home or school (and the Garden is *very* isolated). Furthermore, it is all subject to point #1 at the top of this document, and hence news reports are not always reliable, and frequently conflict. Cathak Cainan is considered to be an honest man, but the seat at the head of the Thousand Mazy Paths does not permit absolute honesty - and who knows what sorcerous influences prey on whom? At the beginning of the game, you will have at best a sheltered knowledge of the world plus whatever conflicting threads of information you've gathered yourself - but if you're serious about becoming Shogun, you may want to give thought to learning more.

6. Altered Backgrounds:

Command becomes Groupies - you've attracted a permanent following from the hordes of fickle hero-worshippers at the school. Generally they're not spectacuarly useful in a physical sense, but arranging for them to be present gives you a guaranteed social bonus in appropriate circumstances (great for ridiculing people or stirring oration, not so great for intimate seduction), usually dice equal to the rating of Groupies you can get to show up.

Connections generally goes to school societies/clubs etc rather than elements of the Realm - these will generally be more useful.

Backing is generally not available.

7. Classes. There are two types of classes - conventional classes for the aquisition of mortal mastery in an area of endeavour, and special classes for the Dragon Blooded to attain Charms in that domain. You will find yourself already enrolled in mortal classes relating to your Aspect and Favoured Abilities, and you may choose which charm classes to attend (generally you can enrol in as many classes as you like, since Duelists do not face the same educational restrictions as everyone else). The Treasure Trove class is compulsory.

There are 25 seperate classes, curiously named after archaic astrological designations, as are the specialised classrooms in which they are taught:

The Ordeal of the Mast - The Mast - Endurance
Stables of the Fleet Messenger - The Messenger - Ride
Flagship of the Victorious Captain - The Captain - Sail
The Inescapable Hardship Rendered as Ship's Wheel - The Ship's Wheel - Survival

The Resplendent Peacock Gallery - The Peacock - Craft
The Oubliette of the Ewer - The Ewer - Dodge
The Thrice-Mazed Pillar - The Pillar - Linguistics
The Musician's Podium - The Musician - Performance
Teahouse of the Indiscreet Lovers - The Lovers - Socialise

Magnificent Hall of the Banner - The Banner - Presence
Menangerie of the Thrice-Forged Shield - The Shield - Resistance

Key Ensnarled in Meticulous Webs - The Key - Investigation
The Lair of the Unsleeping Guardians - The Guardians - Larcency
The Winding Shelves Holding the Treasure Trove - The Treasure Trove - Lore
The Three-Tiered Garden of the Sorcerer - The Sorcerer - Occult
The Hidden Tabernacle of the Mask - The Mask - Stealth

The Fields of the Rising Smoke - The Rising Smoke - Athletics
The Inauspicious Eyrie of the Crow - The Crow - Awareness
The Haywain Entombed - The Haywain - Bureacracy
The Hopeful Pyre of the Corpse - the Corpse - Medicine

The Fivefold Petal-and-Thorn Dojo:
The Gull - Thrown
The Quiver - Archery
The Gauntlet - Brawl
The Spear - Melee
The Sword - Martial Arts.


This school is more than a little odd.


More later (tomorrow, hopefully), including the all-important duelling rules. Just to note, each of the above classrooms doubles as a Duelling Field.
 

Inqy

World Breaker's Sigh
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2. Heroes. This word will likely get thrown about quite a bit. By default (OOC more or less), we're talking a "classical" definition of Hero, which has no particular moral component, referring instead to pivotal, exceptional individuals who are larger than life. This status carries with it a well-known mechanical benefit (stunts, 10s as two successes and a full compliment of Health Levels). This is a real state in the setting, and most people are aware of it - it's likely the Faculty has a definitive list of the students that are Heroic from the appropriate Celestial office. However, the term "Hero" will also be slung about for a variety of purposes not matching this definition - such as by the Faculty to refer to the Dragon Blooded children of particularly spectacular destiny who become Duelists, or by virtually anyone to enhance the reputation of someone they find politically convenient. While your characters will absolutely match both the definition and the Faculty's usage, remember point #1 when people use this potentially loaded word, even about you.
*frantically scribbles down notes*

...


What? Some people consider blatent plaguerism a form of flattery. ;)

Anyway, it sounds positively inspired. I'm looking forward to hearing how it went in a few months.
 

Mengtzu

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braincraft said:
The incest and powermongering are already built in. It's like the two were made for each other!

I'm thinking a randomised relationship table would be appropriate, though weighted towards incest, same-sex and nasty neomah habits* rather than away ^_^




*No moral judgement passed on any of these activities. Neomah love is nothing to be ashamed of!
 

Mengtzu

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Inquisitive_Englishman said:
Anyway, it sounds positively inspired.

It is - inspired by a better understanding of Exalted. It may look like I'm working on the 101 very slowly, but reaserching what I've done so far has developed my understanding of the game enormously, and hopefully this game will benefit as a result.
 

some guy

powered by vitamins
Hmmm... Kasumi is again presenting us with glorious Exalted coolness.

*looks at clock* Well waddya know, it is Tuesday! ;)

Kasumi said:
I'm thinking a randomised relationship table would be appropriate, though weighted towards incest, same-sex and nasty neomah habits* rather than away ^_^
*yoink* (though I wonder what my potential players will think if I start giving their character's offspring such traits as incestuous or demonphile)
 
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Mengtzu

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Duelling Societies:


These are relatively common throughout Dynastic society and the schooling system - nobles who congregate for the purposes of duelling, to a variety of levels of organisation from close relatives to dockside brawling rings to highly ritualised, heavily political secret fencing societies. However, at the Garden of Jade Roses, they are particularly prominent (due to the tacit approval and clandestine promotion of the Faculty), and at their highest level, a bit special.

The numerous informal arrangements about the school rate little mention - they have an extremely high rate of participation, but beside the settling of grudges and issues of honour, they function primarily as an arena in which students can distinguish themselves in the hope of impressing the patrons of the Seven-Tiered Heavenly Road Society (widely thought to be the Student Council members) enough to earn an invitation to join its ranks.

The Seven-Tiered Heavenly Road is the main event - all other duelling societies pale in comparison. Its matches (between cliques of prodigious Dragon-Blooded youths) are highly ritualised, as are all its practices, and the stakes are very great indeed - not only the prestige involved, the luxuries enjoyed by the top-ranked cliques, the humiliating conditions often riding upon the matches, but the final prize is rumoured to be the power of the Shogunate itself.

Each member of the Heavenly Road society wears a distinctive duelist's ring, representing the rank of their clique. Cliques can have no more than five members, though particular prestige is accorded to the rare few who are successful with less than five. There are seven ranks of clique, from the seventh (lowest) tier to the first tier, the reigning champions (currently the Student Council). The duelist's ring bears an image of a number of celestial bodies proporianate with their rank, so a seventh tier duelist will have a single body upon their ring, while the Student Council's rings bear the image of an eclipse surrounded by the five planets. There are a number of cliques on each tier equal to the tier's number - so there are seven cliques upon the seventh tier, six upon the sixth, etc, for a total of 28 cliques.

If a clique defeats a higher-ranked clique, the duelists exchange rings. If they defeat a lower-or-equal-ranked clique, they may impose a deleterious condition upon the losers, as nominated before the duel in the negotiation phase. Duels may only occur between cliques within one tier of each other.


[Bah, lunchbreak over already? Later - the challenge rules, which are super-important]
 
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