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  • Truth Machine Chronicle Planning Thread

    So when January hits I'm gonna be running an Exalted campaign with my playgroup. Not only will this be my first real Exalted campaign, this will be my very first campaign that I've ever run! I've been putting a lot of thought and planning into this and I think it's at a stage where I'd really like some fresh eyes and feedback/suggestions, and also it's killing me that I can't share these plans with anyone! (I highly doubt my players read this forum, but on the off chance that they do and are reading this, pls do not!)

    I'm a sucker for anything fey, and I really like the Wyld and the raksha, so I decided I wanted to run a campaign with a big Wyld presence. I am calling it the Truth Machine Chronicle!

    The PCs

    Scarlet of the Twilight Caste: A mysterious dashing pirate who ravages the inland sea south of the Blessed Isle. A very long time ago Scarlet was a legendary navigator and explorer who sailed deep into the Wyld and stole the voice of a sea hag. The furious sea hag cursed Scarlet, and hunts her relentlessly to this day. Scarlet was cunning, however, and evaded the hag until she one day passed the voice on to a successor, binding that successor to take her name and embody her legend so that the hag would hunt the new Scarlet, and the once-captain could retire in peace.

    With Supernal Medicine, Scarlet is the current holder of the sea hag's voice, which brings with it the Scarred by Nightmares sorcerous background with Corrupted Words as her control spell, and a taboo against breaking character in any way, shape, or form. She rocks two Flame Pieces and the Righteous Devil style in combat. Possibly the coolest character in the group, with a super cool player. Her player would like to eventually do something with airships, which sounds like a very appropriate quest for a Twilight, so I'm super excited about that.

    Amigah of the Night Caste: A wyld-touched village girl from the Scavenger Lands, Amigah Exalted into the Night Caste after a mix of envy at her family brewery's success and fear of their wyld taint caused her village to declare her and her mother anathema, throwing them into a temple dungeon as they wrecked and looted their brewery. Amigah broke them out, looted the temple, and her fury at returning to the people of her village picking through her life ignited her anima and she Exalted.

    Supernal Larceny, with a 3-dot familiar that's a swarm of little lightning elementals and a 4-dot set of artifact throwing daggers with cool lightning powers. Her player was the DM of our group's last campaign which fell apart, and their style is pretty significantly different from everyone else in the group - frustrated at my excessive overthinking, pre-planning, and my prodding after minute character details, wanting instead to develop everything through play. They're a really great roleplayer, though, and I plan to do my best to make this work out.

    Wandering Day of the Eclipse Caste: A squad of young terrestrials decided to prove their prowess by hunting a god of the hunt. For bait they chose Wood Tern, a palace kitchen maid, and carted her off to the forest. As the hunters were about to descend upon the god Tern decided to slip her bonds and try and stop them any way she could, thus Exalting into the Eclipse Caste. After fighting off the surprised terrestrials Tern was led to an ancient ruin deep in the forest containing a true treasure trove of First Age lore. The hunting god aided Wood Tern as she ran, hid, and studied, and eventually took the name Wandering Day. She was present when Scarlet took the old captain's mantle, and helped officiate it with her oath powers.

    Day's loadout is still being worked out, but her player is leaning towards like an Indiana Jones type character, and would one day like to learn a Garda Bird's charms.

    Northern Lunar: Even though this is 3e I wanted to offer a Lunar option, so I dug up some homebrews and one of my players decided to make one. The Lunar is still pretty ambiguous. The current working concept is a woman from a tribe or village in the North refused to cower with the rest of the people as a band of raksha raided their holy grounds, and defied her peoples' traditions by entering them herself, braving the deadly blizzard the raksha had brought with them to take a stand against them, impressing Luna enough to Exalt her.

    The Lunar's tell is bear feet. One of the Solar PCs is her bonded mate (still undecided which one in particular). She is frustrated by that.

    The Place

    Chiaroscuro! City of broken glass, hordes of hungry ghosts, and endless opportunity. Scarlet's home port, where the rest of the party have found themselves hiding out for their own reasons. I like the South a lot, and with a pirate captain in the circle Chiaroscuro makes the perfect fit. It's still to be determined just how extensively the party will be traveling, but current plans are they'll be based out of Chiaroscuro for the most part. I still need to figure out like a rough city layout, places of interest, miscellaneous plot hooks, etc., but it'll be fun!

    Also within Chiaroscuro is a raksha freehold hidden deep in a tangle of shadowland districts, reachable by walking along the salt wards that define a winding, circuitous path along the narrow border where these separate shadowlands just barely stop short of intersecting.

    The Plot

    Most of my Exalted lore knowledge so far comes from the TVTropes page and variously intense readings of the 3e core book and some 2e lore books I picked up, so I've sort of taken what I know and hit it with a hammer until my favorite bits fell out and then I glued those together to make the overarching threat of the chronicle.

    The ultimate threat that the circle will eventually encounter, uncover, and possibly defeat, is the titular Truth Machine - a tremendous shaping being worked by a powerful raksha (The Engineer, pending a proper name) who, after long, obsessive study of the mechanisms of Creation (and taking over enough stories of other raksha that it could pass for a Primordial if you squint) has created a sort of counterweight to the Loom of Fate. The purpose of the Truth Machine is to impose a grand lie upon Creation - that the patch of infinite Wyld that Creation is built on is not dead, but dreaming.

    They lured a mortal out into the Wyld, out through the Gateway of Sundraprisha and back again, reshaping them so that in the lie that the Truth Machine will tell this mortal is the Heart Grace of Creation, which does not know it is sleeping. Once the sleeper is awoken, the dream ends, and all will be Wyld, as it will truly have always been.

    Notable NPCs

    One day I will find cool names for these

    The Tri-Khan: The powerful, cunning, frightening lady who rules Chiaroscuro and the Delzahn people. Very little happens in Chiaroscuro that she does not know about, and she is so fiercely bound and in tune with the city that one might be forgiven for assuming something supernatural is going on. One might even be correct. Inspired in large part by Lord Vetinari from the Discworld series.

    The Tri-Khan is the first NPC I've fully statted out, and I may have overtuned her pretty ridiculously, which probably fits her quite well. Fights using a mysterious artifact blade not of mortal make, with questionably mortal power and skill.

    The Engineer: Utterly mad. Aspiring primordial, architect of the Truth Machine, and the current top contender for Big Bad of the whole chronicle.

    The Musician: Utterly mad. The Musician is a supremely powerful Luminary and master of the Chiaroscuro Freehold. The Engineer's eager co-conspirator, the Musician's part in the plot, and their mastery of the Chiaroscuro freehold as a whole, is actually a deep long-term Cup act. The Musician likes Creation, and hopes to take control of the Engineer's story from the inside. Similarly, the Musician's careful maneuvering as the eager provider and caretaker of probably the deepest freehold in Creation leaves no other raksha with any room to advance more malicious designs upon the city. Has fallen in love with the Tri-Khan. Planned to be a prominent and eager yet highly questionable ally to the Circle - eventually even offering to forge Graces for them.

    Notably, the Musician carries no Sword Grace. They shaped their own Sword Grace into a Behemoth (which, as I understand it, is simultaneously a physical weapon and a Wyld creature), and then gifted the weapon to the Tri-Khan, who now carries it, unaware of its true nature as a Grace and Behemoth.

    In a delicious coincidence, both Scarlet and Wandering Day have taken charms or merits relating to poison resistance. I've joked that I'm obligated to poison them at this point, but now all those promised poisonings get to be a theme. Poison cups. Hell yes.

    The Gold Conspirators: A pair of Sidereal Exalted in romantic cahoots that have taken an interest in this new Circle, and maneuver behind the scenes in Chiaroscuro to lead them into advancing their agenda. A House of Serenity Sidereal who maintains several high-profile Resplendent Destinies in the city itself, and a House of Endings Sidereal who handles the Heaven side of things. I feel like I've read there's an entrance to Heaven somewhere in Chiaroscuro, which sounds like a great opportunity to let the party get into some Heaven trouble.

    The Start

    The current start I have in mind for the party is they're all on Scarlet's ship, which is being chased by a Realm ship, and see where things go from there. A good excuse to learn how to do Sailing encounters, have them all fight a common threat, and then go back to Chiaroscuro together.

    For their first major threat I'm thinking I'll have a Wyld Hunt sail into Chiaroscuro and start shaking things up, hunting nonspecific anathema, and then reveal that whoops it's the squad of terrestrials that Wandering Day beat on her first and final day, and they're probably here chasing her.

    I'd love to hear what y'all think! Any glaring beginner mistakes I'm making? Cool opportunities I could be taking advantage of? Fun ideas for how to spice things up even further?
    Last edited by Socratease; 12-25-2017, 02:35 PM.


    The Truth Machine Chronicle - A first-time Exalted campaign.

  • #2
    Great start!

    What are you planning for your early, establishing stories? How soon are you introducing the "main" storyline?


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    • #3
      Thanks!

      I'll admit I don't actually have many ideas for early stories! That's probably where my lack of experience hurts me the most. I've no shortage of ways to push the Circle into promising directions, at least. The Tri-Khan could employ them to do stuff, the Gold Conspirators could pose as Suspiciously Convenient Quest NPCs, the Musician might try to seduce Grandmother Bright, etc.

      My current plan as far as opening moves goes is having the opening encounter lead into the Wyld Hunt arriving in Chiaroscuro, causing enough of a ruckus that the party gets to do cool, notable things and get to know the Tri-Khan. I'll also need to think of some way for that to tie the four of them together as a proper Circle, rather than a loose association of Exalts.

      Or is that too soon? Should I maybe start with a smaller, less consequential story to get them started off together?

      Aside from the aforementioned Wyld Hunt rolling into town the most concrete idea I have for an arc would be the Tri-Khan asking the Circle to figure out why huge swathes of farmland outside Chiaroscuro have begun dying, leading to the discovery of a forgotten machine underground that had been suppressing a shadowland using a harvest god as a battery, and the battery is running out.

      Amigah's player is interested in playing her as a sort of scalper or con artist, traveling to far-off places with Scarlet to sell her mother's brews at exorbitant prices, so that opens up a really exciting crime possibility space and possible consequences arising from that - trouble with the Guild, maybe.

      If I can't figure out how to make a full story out of it I figure Wandering Day's wish to learn from a Garda Bird could at least spice one up.

      I'm not entirely sure how to spin content for Scarlet? Beyond her eventual airship quest, which is gonna be a goldmine of content once I figure out how and when and where to introduce it. I recently looked up what the Five Metal Shrike is and that seems like a fun thing to include in an airship quest. Maybe I'll have the party raid some huge mysterious towers to activate mechanisms that stabilize the sky, even. (Going by the assumption that the further you go in any direction away from the Pole of Earth, including up or down, you'll hit bordermarches before you'll hit the edge of Creation)

      Additionally, I'm thinking there's a lot of possibilities with Chiaroscuro's undercity. Throughout its history an underground infrastructure would have inevitable been used by the city's defenders, as far back as the First Age even, so it could reasonably be packed with horrible danger and tons of loot.

      I can imagine the party would be approached by the Cult of the Illuminated Ones (piloted by the Gold Conspirators) at some point or another, but am not sure where that might go.

      As for introducing the "main" storyline, I'm actually not super sure! I don't really know anything about how to pace a campaign. I know that I want to introduce the Musician quite early, possibly by having the Circle encounter them in the middle of a performance and having to fight off a powerful Instill attack to resist falling under its influence, hopefully even leading the group into thinking it's another Solar at first.

      Then at some point I figure I could introduce the Sleeper as an NPC and tie them to the party, and then maybe later have Fate start acting up now and then as the Loom tries to reconcile established reality and the growing divergent lie of the Truth Machine.

      What makes good early stories? Any suggestions?


      The Truth Machine Chronicle - A first-time Exalted campaign.

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      • #4
        For my tabletop group, Ex3 is different enough that we're taking some time just working through some one-off adventures and character creation before we settle into an actual Chronicle. Our situation is a bit unusual in that we have group members who are having big upcoming life changes lately and into the new year (change of career, moving, etc) that it will be a while before we can really commit into anything as well.

        I was rethinking how I structure my game sessions too - semi related to Exalted but also in general. I burn up way way too much time on exposition, so I'm setting myself a goal to drop one big twist and/or one big plot point reveal per session. Obviously some sessions won't get them - sometimes the players just want to focus on worldbuilding or getting into character and roleplaying or burning up the dice handing out the hurt to some bad guys. But in general, that's what I'd like to do.

        So this is my own biased take on it, but consider breaking up your big story into clear points. These can be your story plot points, revealed one per session or according to your own pace. Sprinkle them with lies, which become the twists in the story. I think it's easy to let Exalted wander far away from your story idea and pick up a mix and match of conflicting themes, antagonists, and settings, so it's OK to pare down the multitude of ideas and stick to close storytelling. Even discuss it with your players and make sure they're on board with keeping focus on the main ideas. Anything you find along the way, you can either work it in, leave it out, or save it for a spin-off Chronicle later.

        As for early stories, an exploration and battle in Chiaroscuro sounds like a really good start. You could have some overlapping motivations: The dying farmland is the only / best source of the secret ingredient in the brew; rumor of a relic airship leads to Chiaroscuro or perhaps a group of air pirates have been mooring to the glass buildings for safe haven; and so on.

        I have trouble with Exalted player characters responding well to being given quests, but it usually works as an early story opener. We seem to assume a lot that people around us know we're Exalted, but not exactly which Caste (or that we're Anathema) until the banner flares.


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        • #5
          This is extremely valuable advice, thank you.

          I think I'll have the village quest be the first story they do after dodging the Realm ship. They sail to port, which should give me a good chance to set the scene for what Chiaroscuro looks like visually, then let them do their own thing for a bit - explore the space, feel out their characters, establish some details about their daily lives, etc., and as part of that I could drop in hints and signs that the city is gearing up for a major lost harvest, affecting the characters as well.

          Heck, they might even decide on their own to go check it out! In which case I could keep the Tri-Khan appointment in my pocket for later!

          And if I make it be somewhere reachable by boat, I could even make them have to dodge other Realm ships searching the inland sea, or like throw in some other notes that there's unusually heavy Realm activity going on.

          Then maybe one more story (though I have no idea what it would even be - any suggestions?), and that way when the first big obstacle comes up - a Wyld Hunt in Chiaroscuro, possibly going so far as to blockade the harbor - will have been foreshadowed. The party will likely assume that they're looking for them, and I can hit them harder by revealing that they are specifically looking for Wandering Day.

          Breaking up the big main story into concrete points and beats is definitely something I'm gonna try. I feel like it would help a lot!


          The Truth Machine Chronicle - A first-time Exalted campaign.

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          • #6
            For an extra exposition story, you might introduce a future antagonist or ally in a different context.

            For example, there may be a Circle opposing the Tri-Khan and/or the sky pirates. You could introduce them in a social context, such as having them in the area doing some intrigue and investigation, or trying to build up allies of their own.

            You could set up a scene with three factions - Tri-Khan's agents, this rival Circle, and maybe a neutral-ish group like the Guild. Use it as a chance to introduce the social actions rules if you haven't. Let the players interact with each of the three, and spend plenty of time on it.

            Three is a good number for extra factions in a social scene like this. Each faction in the scene will have some relationship and/or some goal with respect to each of the others. So, you can explore six total relationships/goals (A to B and C , B to A and C , C to A and B) in a reasonable amount of time. Going up to four factions becomes a dozen relationships/goals, which is way too much to deal with in one adventure.

            Also, the third-guy "C" group (like the Guild in this case) can be simplified a lot - let the local Guild Factor be a real scumbag who gets his way in town by using his influence to jam up commerce for anybody who doesn't pay him off in jade or slaves (or worse). So by simplifying this faction down, you wind up with A and B vying to get their way, and C being the obstruction. In this example, the agents of the Tri-Khan and the rival Circle could both be trying to get the Guild to cooperate.

            Social scenes don't always have to be a formal debate or grand ball. You could set it up in the busy streets of Chiaroscuro, and let the investigation wander. The Guild could be operating from their own warehouses and strongholds. The Tri-Khan's agents could have a bailey or a gaol as headquarters. The rivals (or anyone) could be wandering the streets or poking around in alleys, auction houses, on treasure galleys, in the vaults of a buried undercity, and so on.

            The players can decide which group to help after they've discovered the motivations of the factions involved. This is a good way to give them some power over the direction of the story.




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            • #7
              This is extremely good advice! I think an adventure like that would be a great place to introduce the Musician! Perhaps even playing the villain role before becoming a spooky questionable future ally.

              I'd considered having some upstart Delzahn warlord challenge the khan at some point, but I think maybe it might be better foreshadowing if the challenge came from Dynasts within Chiaroscuro - the khan's minders slipping their leashes and making things difficult for her.

              Side A: The Tri-Khan, for a free and independent Chiaroscuro.

              Side B: The Dynasts, the Tri-Khan's minders, who were well in hand even before the Scarlet Empress disappeared, and all but toothless after. Suddenly they buck the khan's careful manipulation and start throwing their weight around. Why? (To foreshadow the coming Wyld Hunt)

              Side Note: I really need to learn more about the Realm. I have no idea if there are even supposed to be terrestrials in Chiaroscuro! Or if 5 young terrestrials rolling into town calling themselves a Hunt would drive them to at least try to look busy!

              Side C: ??? I feel like I should put the Musician here, but they'd probably be pretty solidly on the Tri-Khan's side. Unless they decided to play both sides for a laugh, or to see how the Tri-Khan would handle it.

              Except I can't really think of how I might tie that up as a discrete story. A prologue to the Wyld Hunt debacle at best. Where would the PCs even fit into that?

              "Find out why the Dynasts are so motivated all of a sudden" doesn't sound like a super exciting story prompt. How can I raise the stakes or otherwise spice it up? Or is this not a great idea and I should try something else?


              The Truth Machine Chronicle - A first-time Exalted campaign.

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              • #8
                Oh god we start in 7 days that's so close

                I need to knock out some more concrete plans for the first story and worry about the second story later. Here's the rough idea so far:

                The Hook

                A once-prosperous farming village has been steadily losing output as healthy crops wither and die, or simply refuse to grow. Every measure has been taken to ward against plague and pest, but now an undeniable dying has come to the village. People go hungry, tempers are high, a once-friendly town turns sour and suspicious. What is the source of this dying? Can it be reversed?

                The Plan

                I figure once the party gets to the village I let them run around for a bit and see what they do. Then maybe introduce them to a friendly NPC who can provide some hints+guidance. Also they're gonna find so many ghosts. Maybe get attacked at night by waves of them or something.

                Eventually they somehow find the entrance to an underground manse beneath the village. They breach the manse, dungeon crawl their way past whatever defenses or traps I throw in there, and eventually find the center of the manse. Turns out the whole thing was an experiment in aggressively mending a shadowland by overlaying it with abundant life, and now that the manse is failing the shadowland is bleeding back through.

                The manse's main mechanisms stopped working a long time ago (maybe the underlying demense was disrupted when the Scarlet Empress activated the Realm Defense Grid?), and as a failsafe it reached out and snatched up the harvest god of the area, and has since been burning it for fuel. The god is now used up and dying, and that's why the manse is failing.

                And then to fix it maybe the party needs to establish a cult to feed the god with prayer? Or go questing for a hearthstone to plug into the manse so it can draw from a different demense? Failing that, go running to the Tri-Khan and she burns it all down and builds some new salt wards?

                I gotta turn this rough outline into a proper adventure somehow. What sort of dangers or defenses would a manse have? If there's an Eclipse in the party would ghosts even attack them? Any other twists and turns I could throw in there?

                I have never planned an adventure before. Any advice or suggestions would be greatly appreciated!
                Last edited by Socratease; 01-07-2018, 12:50 PM.


                The Truth Machine Chronicle - A first-time Exalted campaign.

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                • #9
                  It's a tough thing to stand up in front of your friends and be the center of attention. That's what storytellers do. It's scary but also addictive.

                  You *will* mess up. Your plot will be wrecked by the actions of the characters. Since these things are inevitable, remember to not worry about them.

                  Talk to your players if things aren't working. Ask for a couple of minutes to figure out how to handle something, if you need to.

                  For example, Exalted is a setting that lends itself to strongly-cast NPCs, villains that turn to become allies, allies that fall to become (redeemable?) enemies, and so on. Sometimes my players will want to "leave no witnesses" - a habit from Shadowrun - when what I really want is recurring villains that can eventually turn and change loyalties. So we'd talk about that and decide how we want to generally deal with defeated antagonists.

                  Those are some storytelling generalities.


                  As for the adventure specifics...

                  You're doing great already, first thing to say.

                  Ghosts make a good first enemy type for Solars. It's a good chance to step through the combat system. Make sure people know how to use Excellencies. Make sure they have their correct stats for defenses, soak, damage, and all that stuff together. If they're comparing numbers, their minds are in the right place. Make sure they understand withering and decisive attacks.

                  Ghosts are chumps compared to even brand new Solars. So if you have a first fight with Solars against individual ghosts, you can change it up with the next battles...
                  ... describe that the Solars have found their pace and just go right through small numbers of ghosts. Maybe have them roll a single attack to curb-stomp inconsequential battles if you like, but the idea here is to drop the hint that detailed battles are consequential and opponents are mighty. You could even describe some mortal guardsmen struggling with fights that they're breezing through.
                  ... stumble into a crypt or chamber with dozens or hundreds of ghosts, or a crossroads with several packs of a dozen or so. Let them fight against battlegroups, so they get the sense of how that works.
                  ... let them meet a pack of boss ghosts. Give them some dice pools close to what the Solars have. Let them make some attacks that threaten or even crash some of the Solars, so the rest of the new Circle has to scramble to save them.

                  You can frame the Solars as the wise and well-informed ones by how you describe things. For example, your helpful NPC could explain that people have sometimes been lost in the area around the manse. Once, even, he got lost, and wandered all night in a strange and haunted land that had no landmarks he could recognize. Miraculously, he found his way back to the manse in the morning, and then was able to find his way and get back home. Maybe this is why he became a guide. The Solars, having a better Lore ability, would recognize that it's a shadowland, and the helpful guide had accidentally passed into the underworld and back. This is also a good way to let them make "I know stuff" rolls without letting them roll dice to guess everything in the adventure.

                  The players will likely come up with their own approaches to fixing it, but you can have a couple of options in mind...
                  ... travel to the four corners of the manse to realign some crystal reflectors. Good excuse to work through the different ghost battles.
                  ... negotiate with other gods in the area to have them take turns holding the manse together. Good chance to introduce the influence rules.
                  ... build some replacement parts to stabilize the area again. Good chance to figure out crafting.
                  ... And so on. A nice thing about having a few options ready to go in mind is that you can always reuse them later, in future adventures.

                  Ghosts may not be aware enough to realize any such pact with the Eclipse caste. My own take on it would be that any of the greater dead, who have been touched by the Neverborn, would be compelled to recognize the Eclipse' divine right of embassy; lesser dead who just roam around on their own would probably not. I would definitely give an Eclipse the chance to make an impression and let their diplomacy shine through though.

                  A trap could be a physical trap, like spikes or falling stones. They'd be some sort of awareness or larceny challenge to bypass. A craft challenge to defeat them and make them safe for good.

                  It could be a monster "trap", like a caged beast that's released. Or some sort of creature that's been trapped inside accidentally, infused with corruptive Essence, and then stumbled upon by the Circle. Survival challenge to calm the beast. Medicine to cure it or treat its madness or infection. Or combat to defeat it.

                  It could also be a verbal encounter, attempting to affect the Circle with influence. Magic words written on a wall. Words spoken by a face in the flames of a torch. Hypnotic music played by gusts of air through concealed pipes. Influence challenge to resist. Influence challenge also to defeat a voice in a debate; or maybe Lore. Sorcery challenge to suppress or break the effect, perhaps. Craft challenge to adjust the hidden pipes (rather than smashing them). Performance challenge to answer the music with your own and change the hypnosis into encouragement to continue.



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                  • #10
                    Our session got delayed a week so I put off replying to this thread a bit to focus on my new job but: Oh my gosh! These are such great ideas! Thank you so much! This is gonna be such a big help for planning the thing!

                    I like the idea of verbal encounters trying to influence the Circle. Some broken old intelligence that doesn't realize the manse is broken and tries to ward off the Circle thinking they're coming to shut it down. I could have the trapped god inside trying to argue with it, even.

                    In other news, I recently realized that as the Storyteller I have an reckless amount of power. Like, anything I say is canon becomes canon?

                    I realized I could just say that people with animal features are a relatively common sight in Creation. I wouldn't even need to have a reason for it. I just say the Tri-Khan of Chiaroscuro is a catgirl and that becomes true. (Though I figure a believable reason could be something like what if the Balorian Crusade left widespread Wyld mutation in what was left of life in Creation and the Sidereals decided it would be easier to just push a "It's always been like this" retcon before the Terrestrials got any bright ideas involving fire and pogroms)

                    The sky's the limit! I could crank the dial that says "Weird cool magitech" up to eleven and nobody could stop me. Glowing tattoos and piercings are common. Chiaroscuro has a thriving rave culture. The Delzahn are desert sailors with sand ships, keeping secret routes between deep oases.

                    I've also had an idea for a potential arc about Chiaroscuro!

                    What if, once upon a time, Chiaroscuro was alive? A tremendous, living prism-city for focusing and distributing geomantic energy in the South. There was a mind imbued in the glass, and it had the power to grow and shift the city's glass to meet the people's needs and adjust where and how it focused its energies. As part of the Usurpation this mind had to be suppressed so that the Terrestrials could move freely through the city and slay its Solars. The mind was driven deep underground and trapped in the tangled fiberglass roots of Chiaroscuro's undercity, leaving only echoes of itself with limited power over the glass. These echoes are now under the secret protection of Chiaroscuro's glassmakers guild.

                    Retrieving and stabilizing this glass mind could be a whole arc by itself! (Hell, it could be a whole campaign, but I've already got the whole Truth Machine thing planned) Plot twist: Grandmother Bright is a shard of the glass mind.

                    Scarlet's player also brought up a fun discussion that got me thinking about ghosts at sea. Like, if you think about it, the ocean should be the most ghost-proof place to be, right? The biggest salt ward ever. And ships, which are also hella salty, should thus be fairly ghost-resistant. So it's not inconceivable that there could be ghost smugglers. Sailors who transport ghosts across the oceans.


                    The Truth Machine Chronicle - A first-time Exalted campaign.

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                    • #11
                      Delays happen! I'm eager to hear how the intro session turns out though!

                      You do in fact have a mostly-limitless amount of power. What's really finite is attention, though.

                      By that I mean, you can change anything you like, but the more you change, the more you have to describe. The more you have to keep up with and consistent. The more your players have to pick up. Imagine if your players have a great first session, then go back to read through the book again and better understand the game and setting - only to find dozens and dozens of changes. It would be a bit more difficult for them to make those mental connections while they're learning.

                      So, make the game yours, but spend your attention and your players' attention in ways that best improve your play time. Think of your favorite books or shows or movies - the good ones spend precious time and audience attention for the things that build the story.

                      You can definitely make use of changes, though!

                      For example, the Chronicle I want to build for a few months from now will have a few: Random NPCs that they meet for the first time will drop dead on sight. And there are probably to be tiny automata or well trained pets scattered all over the place, that run errands for people - nobody pays any attention for them. Both of those are deviations from the Exalted games we've played before, and I'll be using them to establish and reinforce that things are strange and different and somehow (shockingly or subtly) just off. (In case my players read, I won't share what the big reveals would be for those two. Send a PM if you'd like though!)

                      If you want the Tri-Khan to be a catgirl, use that as a lead-in for a big reveal of some sort. Have him start off as described in the books. Then the Circle goes off on some adventure, perhaps outside of Fate into the Underworld or something. When they're back, the Tri-Khan has changed.... and nobody can remember otherwise. They can then go and find out that some combination of their Solar Essence or being outside of Fate has protected their memories from the change, hinting at the actions of a Raksha or Sidereal.

                      If your players pick up on the change, so much the better, because you can let them run with the investigation and let them speculate wildly.

                      One final thought for now: How do you translate your changes into actions the player characters can take? If, for example, your Chiaroscuro was alive and still has a hidden fragment of its mind, what would your game's Circle actually do about it? Mysteries, reveals, and twists are all fantastic, but they best happen in context of conflict and action.

                      Keep your dice warm!


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                      • #12
                        That's a way of thinking that I don't think I've ever considered before, and I think this is an extremely valuable perspective. Thank you very much for your advice on this! I will do my darndest to spend my and my players' attention wisely.

                        Changes happening while the party is outside Fate is a pretty neat hook! I'll have to keep that one in mind! Especially once I get into the Truth Machine plot proper.

                        (My Tri-Khan has definitely always been a lady, though. I genuinely forgot the book refers to the Tri-Khan as a dude. We're a bunch of queer players and I'm out to build the most queer campaign I am physically able)

                        A crazy thing happened today! I'm from a small country. Our capital contains something like 130 thousand people. I've seen Chiaroscuro described as "ruined magitech New York", so today I looked up some aerial photos of New York to try and get a sense of that kind of scale. I was gobsmacked. That city is *big*.

                        Which is actually pretty exciting! It gives me a massive playground of ruins to do stuff with. Ancient city parks could be farmland! I could place a sand ship port on the outskirts of the city and have some main streets form a trade route between there and the harbour! I'm gonna try and dig through the 2e South book for details I can use and then see if I can rough out a map.

                        In other news I've been thinking about the motivations of the two main raksha - the Musician and the Engineer. I've been learning stuff about the true Wyld. Apparently the Balorian Crusade created these hannya, who prey on raksha? Which I actually kind of really dig.

                        If I keep the idea of the hannya, then the Engineer's idea of dissolving Creation using the Truth Machine and its new narrative reality becomes insane. There would be no border between Wyld-within-Creation and Wyld-beyond-the-Gate. The hannya would swarm and devour everything in a tide of total chaos.

                        Maybe an alternate use of the Truth Machine and its narrative reality could be to simply destabilize it enough that raksha can live freely within. That might be what the Musician is after, rather than shutting it down entirely.

                        Also, the Musician and the Tri-Khan are in love and are total fools about it, because I love it. The Tri-Khan is half convinced it's a long con, but tempted to go along with it anyway, keeping two Major Ties of wariness and interest in tension. The Musician is in denial and fears that they might destroy her, as is the Entertainer way.

                        Speaking of Balor and the fey, I've been giving a lot of thought to ways to make them creepy even when they're trying to be friendly. The Musician will definitely early after meeting the Circle try to helpfully inform them that every word it says is a lie.

                        I doubt it would ever come up, but I'm tempted to make the Musician the Thief of Words that's talked about in the fluff of Graceful Wicked Masques.

                        And, as long as I'm dumping ideas that are unlikely to come up: What if the Balorian Crusade was exactly that? Balor's crusade. How many of the fey invaded Creation? If the raksha are stories, and this is the story of Balor, maybe there was only ever one. (And the billions of extras he formed as part of it)

                        Anyway, tangents aside, I'm really liking the living Chiaroscuro idea and want to try and include it as an arc. I can use it as a tool to help me build Chiaroscuro, at least. A powerful and secretive Glassmakers' Guild. A sprawling, dangerous undercity and people tattooed in glowing ink who work to map it. A city laid out something like a tremendous solar farm.

                        The Musician would try to subvert the mind because that is their nature. Put your ear to the red glass streets and hear the ringing melody build. Grandmother Bright starts to hum it to herself unknowingly.

                        The Realm would want the mind turned to their side or otherwise destroyed. With the very glass of the city doing their bidding they'd finally have true control of Chiaroscuro.

                        The Tri-Khan would want the mind for her people. If Chiaroscuro could be mended even slightly, that would be huge.

                        I really gotta find proper names for all these NPCs. The best I've got so far is calling the Engineer 'Something Something Demiurge'

                        Note to self bc it's late and I'm on mobile: Consider tweaking things to pander specifically to the PCs and their goals, backgrounds, and concepts.


                        The Truth Machine Chronicle - A first-time Exalted campaign.

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                        • #13
                          Sounds like you're all set!

                          Keep your ideas and possibilities in mind - they can turn into plot twists and mysteries to discover along the course of the storytelling.


                          Check out Momentum Exalted!

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                          • #14
                            Our first session happened yesterday!

                            I started everybody off on Scarlet's boat, sailing west from the Scavenger Lands back to Chiaroscuro, giving everybody a chance to establish why they're there and what they're doing and such, before I had the lookout spot a ship on the horizon - a single-masted cutter, about the same size as Scarlet's ship. Scarlet, being a pirate, decided to try and capture the ship. On approach, it started to look like the other ship had the same idea, and was heading to intercept Scarlet's intercept.

                            I figured with a pirate captain to ferry the party about, it could be neat to start things off with a ship battle, to try and get a feel for how such encounters might play out. The enemy ship was helmed by a captain using the Lintha Reaver statblock from the core book, and a battlegroup of Brigands.

                            After a couple of Positioning rolls, I announced that the enemy ship was now within Long range, so the rest of the party could get ready to throw down. The Lunar, tentatively named Unfettered Sky, turned into a bear. Amigah, the Night Caste, activated Triple Distance Attack Technique and wanted to start attacking the ship right away, but was bummed out when reminded that aiming is a thing that has to happen. To try and drive the point home I rolled the ships' crews in as battlegroups and then described how a few of the enemy crew had climbed the rigging and were preparing to shoot arrows at Scarlet's ship.

                            Next round, another Positioning roll, and I let Amigah throw her knives at the ship. She described a pretty cool thing she wanted to do - charge her knives with electricity and throw them at the mast, rigging, and sail, trying to start a fire. Since I hadn't had time to write up any solid crunch for her knives, but it fell in line with the (admittedly super vague yet consistent) flavor she wants for them, I figured I'd call it a Gambit. She rolled pretty decently to hit and got 4 successes on the gambit roll, and since I had no idea how to resolve it properly at the time, I said she succeeded. Rigging broke, sail was falling to the deck and blocking the archers that were ready to shoot at them, minor fires were starting.

                            Another Positioning roll, this time with Scarlet remembering that Excellencies are a thing and handily gaining a big chunk of momentum. I asked if she wanted to move in to Short range with the enemy ship or stay at Medium and then burn her momentum for a quick close and board. She decided to move in to Short range, so I informed the rest of the party that a decent (Dexterity + Athletics) roll would get them across to the other ship.

                            It was at this point that Unfettered Sky, in the shape of A Goddamn Bear, activated Monkey Leap Technique and leapt effortlessly over to the other deck, crunching 3 Magnitude out of the enemy crew's total 8. So now there's a big angry bear going berserk on the enemy ship, crushing skulls left and right. And then Wandering Day, who had rolled a quite respectable initiative, threw out a Joint-Wounding Strike for a big 7 damage to the enemy crew. I couldn't quite think of how a single thrown knife would kill an entire ship's crew, so I told her that the sight of Day throwing a single knife through one guy and into another guy had the rest of the crew surrendering pretty quick.

                            At this point the encounter feels pretty over, so I just describe how Scarlet and her boarding party easily board the other vessel, secure the prisoners, and put out the fires Amigah's attack had started. A bit of interrogation and some light looting happens, and to cover up how grossly I'd undertuned the encounter I decided this was the captain's first command, with a fairly green crew. A bit of intimidation revealed that he was a Realm privateer, licensed to harry non-Realm traffic going to Chiaroscuro, and the captain's log further revealed that he was a bit of an underdog, edged out into these waters by other privateers who had already called dibs on a bunch of territory.

                            Meanwhile Amigah broke into Scarlet's cabin and helped herself to what she felt was fair pay for her services out of the captain's booty. Then there was some flirting and a dinner date and Amigah got to help herself to some more of Scarlet's booty. (And Scarlet's Celestial Bliss Trick)

                            We'd started pretty late, so the session ended there, unfortunately. Next session the Circle will be sailing into Chiaroscuro with a captured ship in tow, and Realm Privateer Jeremiah and his pile of damning evidence to hand over to the Delzahn in hopes of a bounty of some kind. Thankfully Scarlet had the foresight to hit him with Corrupted Words to forbid him from telling anyone there's a bunch of Celestial Exalted on her ship.

                            Things I am proud of:

                            With the existence of sand ships confirmed, we figured it would be cool if Scarlet's ship could be both a sailing ship and a sand ship. I was having a ton of trouble coming up with a cool way for how that might be done, though, so I had the brilliant idea of asking Scarlet how she pictured it might work. Scarlet's idea blew all of mine out of the goddamn water: Scarlet's ship has legs. A bunch of wooden legs that can act as oars when in water, or walk when on land. It is the coolest goddamn thing.

                            Everybody seemed to have fun, I think! That is important to me. There were laughs, there were good times, there were cool moments.

                            I managed to let myself be terrible as at improv as I am. The pirate captain dramatically walking down from the helm to meet Scarlet as she boards, going "Aye, I'm the captain of this ship. Uh. 'sup?" got a nice laugh.

                            The combat encounter, although terribly short, went fairly fluidly, I think.

                            Things I need to improve

                            Encounter difficulty! A bigger ship and bigger crew and stronger captain would have been much more appropriate. This one didn't even last one full round of real combat.

                            Gotta figure out how to ship combat good. I have no idea if I'm doing it right. Current model: Everybody rolls Join Battle. Captains make Sail maneuvers on their turns, any PCs aboard can try and help out the crew somehow or take pot shots at the enemy ship if they like.

                            Scarlet's crew has battle shanties! What an extremely cool idea. I need to figure out how to implement this mechanically. Are there, like, battlegroup morale damage maneuvers or something? Failing that, perhaps a custom stat block for Scarlet's crew as a battlegroup with a battle shanties ability.

                            I really need to write up Amigah's throwing knives. The road to bullshit is paved with undefined mechanics. I just can't seem to think of any cool concepts for them!

                            Speaking of which, in hindsight I feel like I could have mechanically represented Amigah's attack better. Perhaps as a point of hull damage, maybe.

                            I need to do up some cards or something for Unfettered Sky's common forms, and just figure out how Lunar form stats work in general. We used the Bear QC stat block for this session, but that's not even the bear minimum. I have no idea how Excellencies or other charms would interact with a QC dice pool.

                            Descriptions! Setting a scene! I am bad at that!

                            Setting up and resolving actions. We kept forgetting to tally stunts and then adding stunt dice after the fact, for example.

                            Future Plans

                            The Realm is indirectly throttling traffic to Chiaroscuro! First bit of foreshadowing established. This can lead up to the glass mind plot, as a faction within the Realm lays the groundwork for its coming attempt to covertly seize control of the city.

                            I should write up like a proper introduction text for the next session, to describe sailing into Chiaroscuro's harbour and such. And come up with a rough city map if I can find the time+energy.

                            A small database of quick characters for easy reference would be an invaluable tool, even if it's just general blocks like "Peasant", "City Guard", "Scholar", "Merchant", etc. I should look into that.
                            Last edited by Socratease; 01-22-2018, 09:03 AM.


                            The Truth Machine Chronicle - A first-time Exalted campaign.

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                            • #15
                              Sounds like you're doing it right!


                              Check out Momentum Exalted!

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