Dragon Lines: After Action Report and a Look Forward

I wrapped up the Dragon Blooded game. I had very mixed feelings about it. This isn’t to say I was unhappy with it. It’s still one of my favorite games I’ve ever run. But it did highlight some stuff for me.

  • I run big. Exalted doesn’t help with that. It may even make it a little worse. The setting has got some big, big, BIG elements in it that beg to be used. (I heard them. They were begging.) The disappearance of the Scarlet Empress. The return of the Solars. Several factions with a grudge match wanting to bring the whole shebang down. I tried to scale it back a bit since these were only Dragon Blooded, but the players dreams were bigger than their power. And they were such small fish in a big pond. This didn’t end as big as the Solar/Lunar game I ran a while back. But it still ended big.

    The power level in Exalted is really weird. It’s easy to have grossly disproportionate characters in terms of capability. And even a game of Solars is severaly underprepared to deal with the real threats of the universe. Like all Storyteller games, it’s very easy to get temporal power: wealth, influence and prestige are easy to have at character creation. Having raw physical power is another matter entirely. In the beer-and-pretzels game we’re in, we’ve got 400 point characters and we’re getting chewed up in straight up fights with Fair Folk. Fair Folk! (No, we haven’t invested in some of the big Wyld Smashing Charms.)

    It makes it hard to know what sort of game to run. I mean, you could do a high-powered dungeon crawl, but is that really why you want to play Exalted? Really?

  • One player commented that the rules were mostly kinda useless for our campaign. We weren’t very combat driven. It was mostly a roleplay heavy game. The character creation setup really worked well to bring the characters together. But the actual Exalted rules were kinda pointless. I’ve had this frustration with other games with awesome settings. Shadowrun springs instantly to mind. An absolutely brilliant setting utterly geared towards people who like fiddling with big swirling pools of numbers to make their guys bigger badasses. I mean, seriously: Why does anyone care that there are different stats between Ares Predators and Colt Manhunhters?

    An obvious response might be, “Social Combat?” But that seemed… kinda lame. Assuming you could beat the MDV, it was just a way to whittle down Willpower. And, really, if you wanted to break someone’s will… it seems like there are more ruthless ways to do it. Granted, this comes without playing in a game that has ever had significant social combat. I’ve seen rules work out in surprising ways, so maybe I can be proven wrong.

    The common response I get is, “Well, maybe you’re using the wrong rules.” And, sure. I could easily adapt Amber Diceless or run a free-form-ish game in either of these settings. (In fact, I’m looking to run a diceless Exalted game at ACUS 2010. And I think I figured out what I did wrong with my dicless Shadowrun game.) But often times the rules help encourage a certain paradigm and cosmology. This is especially true of games where the setting was designed to go with the rules. And Shadowrun has proven that you can streamline things without losing the fundamental feel of the universe. But streamlining it farther… Hoo. That delves into sticky category.

    My position regarding “system matters” has been more “system helps.” As I’ve gotten to play more under different circumstances, I’m willing to back off on that and approach it as “system matters if you play the roleplaying game as a game.” Because for some people, that’s all this is: window dressing on a game. But if you’re playing the roleplaying game for the roleplaying, then the game mechanics are not as important. They can help, but you can also just use them sparsely and otherwise roleplay more heavily.

    I’m inclined to use the Exalted rules because there are things that I like. And I like a little bit of flexibility. “What’s my game about?” It’s about whatever it ends up being when we get together. More of an answer implies far more preparation or foresight than I actually have.

    So I don’t just scrap all the rules. I don’t want to just throw the baby out with the bathwater. But when you run for a predominantly female group that doesn’t like a whole lot of rules… then some stuff gets wasted. So how do you weed out the stuff you don’t want without throwing off the groove of the mechanics when you decide to use them…?

    I have no answers. Some of these are questions I’ve been struggling with for a while. There’s always the simple possibility of “I’m just not that good as a GM” and “I’m doing this wrong.” =P


So what’s next? My girlfriend is running a Vampire: The Masquerade (Revised Edition) game for the same group. She stealing some of the ideas I used in my character creation because they worked really well.

My promise to myself was that I wouldn’t run anything or join anything until I got two games off my plate, but I’m not doing too well at keeping that promise. I’ve played in at least one session of a Girl Genius using Spirit of the Century. It’s a pickup game so attendance isn’t strong. But I figure I’ll give it a shot since I had a lot of fun.

With the B&P Exalted game, the GM’s life has been hectic and so it’s lost a lot of energy. We’ve discussed rotating the GMing responsibilities in order to take some of the pressure off of him. Unfortunately, the only other people in the group capable of GMing are the girlfriend and I. She’s offering a monster-o-the-week oWoD Nosferatu game. (Because we thought it would awesome to have an entire game of just Nosferatu.) I’ve tossed out a dozen or so things I’d like to try, in part because I want to see how the rules hold up in the rules meatgrinder that is this group. I’ve got everything from nWoD to Deadlands to 7th Sea to Star Wars Saga Edition. Not sure what it will be or how good I’ll do as a B&P GM.

1 thought on “Dragon Lines: After Action Report and a Look Forward

  1. admin Post author

    Re: In the Sprawl

    I’ve seen a few different variations with different systems. I played in a GURPS re-imagining of it several years ago. (With Matt Wilson, amusingly. I didn’t connect him with PTA till he came and gave me crap several months ago for passing on a PTA game at GoPlay Northwest.) Someone ran a playtest of Agon reimagined as Shadowrun. I did an Amber Diceless variation at AmberCon US. I have a copy of Wushu around that I still have to check out. Someone had considered using it as an alternative to Exalted.

    I think my frustration with using other systems comes down to a few things. There are some assumptions about cosmology that are reinforced with rules in Shadowrun. The role of technology versus magic. The structure of deeper magic in the setting. Etc.

    And one of my favorite uses of rules is to help shape choices. A big problem I ran into with using ADRPG was that things were a little too open and people unfamiliar with the setting didn’t know what to choose.

    But what I trip over is that everyone has a different idea about what to do with Shadowrun. The guy who ran the GURPS game used the GURPS cosmology and didn’t bother to try and use the Shadowrun setting. What he wanted was just cyberpunk with magic thrown in, and he really liked GURPS combat. The Agon playtest shifted Greek gods into Megacorporations and heroic journeys into shadowruns. And it sounds like your Wushu game was geared towards fast-paced action combat.

    I think what I ultimately want is something that allows me to use the Shadowrun universe and maintains some of the conceits of the setting, and allows me to run whatever sort of game I want. If I want to run a mystery game in Shadowrun or a game where players are office drones, I don’t necessarily want to use a different game system for every approach. It’s fun to re-skin games for specific purposes, but I’d really just like a good simple system for all my Shadowrun needs.

    Or I may just be overly fussy about it. =T

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