This Saturday I had my crazy double feature of gaming: dungeon crawl style Exalted followed by Werewolf: The Wild West. Commentary behind the cut.
So at noon I bussed over to my friend’s house for Exalted. We had a bit of a late start, since I was the only person to show up on time. I also warned them I had to leave at 5. Factoring in everyone finishing up notes regarding their characters, we probably got about three and a half hours of playing in. We covered basically a few days of travel to the village of Hommlet (which, in this game, is a couple hundred miles west of The Lap), running through a few random encounters adapted from the charts in the module. We dealt with goblins, human bandits and a pack of omen dogs. It was mainly a chance for us to play around with the system and get a feel for how it worked.
It turned out to be crazy fun. I think this was perhaps the most fun I’ve ever had with the Exalted system. It wasn’t the best roleplaying experience I’d ever had, which came about in the first Exalted game I played in. But in terms of just having loads of fun pulling off stunts and rolling big handfuls of d10s, this was a winner. Nothing quite like jumping 20 yards, nailing a guy in the chest with your paired hook daiklaives as you pass over his head, and then throwing as you drop into a roll on the other side of him. I think we missed a bunch of mechanics. I think I’m supposed to get Essence or something when I pull off a 2-die stunt, but we never did anything with it.
Next session the GM said we’d be fast-forwarding to Hommlet. We’re making the newer player take point, in case of green slime in the first hallway.
Well, despite having said I had to leave at 5 so that I could do the hour and a half of bussing to get to the next game, I ended up scoring a ride at the last minute and got to the neighborhood of the next game an hour and 45 minutes early. D’oh. But you didn’t come here to hear about that.
The first session was very first session-ish. Much like the D&D game, in a way. It was the usual, “You’ve got characters you’ve barely established a personality for and now you are thrust into this situation together and assured that It Must Be.” Only a bit more awkward than assuming your characters all know each other already. My character was pretty broadly looked down on by the other characters, but I think that’s to be expected as a Ragabash Bone Gnawer. I was instantly suspected of being trouble and an idiot as well. I think I’m either off to an excellent start or a trail of tears.
One thing that I hadn’t expected was that we had random encounter charts while travelling. As a snooty Amber Diceless player, I’d long divorced myself from such things in any “serious roleplaying” endeavor. Because if you want plot elements to happen, you should just have them happen. Why hinge some cool side-plot idea you have in mind on having to turn up on a random chart. I’ve played with GMs who ran their entire games off of random rolls. They didn’t do any prep, it was just one random encounter after another, often with no reason behind it at all. But that’s an extreme case.
But in this situation it worked out pretty well. It leant a degree of authenticity to the game. Because there was a degree of unpredictability, it didn’t feel like it was plot being nudged in at the sides. It was just random things that would come up as we were on the road. Ran across a couple Mexicans fleeing south with a woman they kidnapped. Killed them, rescued the girl, claimed their horses, dragged them all with us on our mission. Ran into some other guy headed in the opposite direction, he asked to buy one of the horses off of us. Just really slice of life sorts of moments.
It flies a little contrary to a purely story oriented perspective. These didn’t forward plot, per se. I guess you could argue that they helped define our personalities by given us moral choices to make along the way and interact with NPCs we came across. But more than anything, it was just fun color. Because we knew they were random encounters, my feeling was that we didn’t associate them with plot and felt like we didn’t need to scrutinize the hell out of it trying to figure out what the plot hook was. This could be a mistaken assumption (both in terms of my read on how we interacted with the encounters and how connected these encounters were to the Plot), but that’s at least my gut take on the matter.
The lack of immediate association with plot could be something of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, we were free to act a bit more naturally because there wasn’t the gravity of PLOT behind them. They were just casual fun between point A and point B. The flip side, though, is that lack of gravity meant we could easily just dismiss them. “What? This isn’t PLOT? I ignore it and ride on through to the PLOT.” It will be interesting to see how these pan out.
The other benefit that occurs to me as I type is that it lends a degree of unpredictability to the plot, adding wild cards into the mix. Our group now has this strange woman that we rescued from kidnappers travelling with us. She doesn’t know we’re Garou. We’ve just assumed she’s just a human. And we’re travelling into God-knows what sort of situation. Could be a poisoned well. Could be an army of Black Spiral Dancers. We just don’t know.
As Steven Marsh pointed out in one of my favorite Pyramid articles by him, having an element of the unexpected can really add tension to a scene. Because otherwise it just boils down to: Either they win or they lose. Having a rogue element to complicate things can add a lot of tension. I always have trouble with this for a number of reasons. When I make NPCs with conflicting agendas running afoul of one another, it’s always so hard to know just how to resolve them. Because they are both constructs of my own imagination, I tend to dither about what to do with it. Especially since I have to have them conflict in a way that provides an engaging story for the PCs.
Having outside influences factor into how the NPCs think, usually int he form of someone playing some NPCs for me, can add depth to a situation that I can’t seem to create on my own. Doing more random encounters might lend itself towards adding more depth to my games. Now I just need to have the motivation to sit down and create a random encounter chart. Then all I need to do is remember to keep track of my NPCs in conflict situations and figure out how to make NPCs endearing to the players/PCs in the first place… and I should be golden.
I’ve told the kids that they are all old enough and experienced enough to be held responsible for understanding the rules for themselves and being held to a higher standard in terms of personal accountability. I’ve given them a lot of slack because of their age, but most of them are able to vote in elections now. I figure they should start getting their act together.
To help this along, I’ve proposed resources they could have to make the game go easier for them. And I’ve offered a bunch of XP if they make these resources. Some have leapt at the bait and have been working on solutions to the problems I presented them with. We’ll see if they end up feeling overwhelmed by the task they’ve taken on and give up or if throwing XP at a problem will really solve it.