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How do you design a story?

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  • How do you design a story?

    Hi crowd. I've been wondering about this problem since i started organizing a EX3 game. You can't very well do dungeon runs and orc invasions in EX3 like you can in D&D, even if you make them First Age Tombs and Fae incursions. Beyond "Go get the Mcguffin", what kind of stories are you guys running that take advantage of the world/mechanics of Exalted?

    ..."But I've bought a big bat, I'm all ready you see. Now my troubles are going to have troubles with me"

    Message me for Japanese translations.

  • #2
    ...You don't.

    You write characters who:
    - have motivations the PCs can understand and empathize with
    - feel strongly enough about those motivations that they're willing to do extreme things in pursuit of them
    - and are, as a consequence, brought into conflict with other characters you wrote in the same manner.

    Then you watch the ensuing fireworks as multiple sides go against one another, with the PCs' actions ultimately deciding who comes out on top. If you did your prep work right, a story falls out of the resulting mess.

    There are nuances to the process but I really want to get some food now, so we'll leave it at that for now.

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    Advice for running the corebook shikari antagonists


    • #3
      One can design a story up to the point players interfere XD

      Which by the most part has to be believable and end in something that engages the players.


      • #4
        Be willing to accept input from your players. Can't emphasize that enough.


        • #5
          As they said. You don´t. I think you can do it for other games, but Exalted is... too open-ended, and the characters have too much power, freedom and agency to be able to design a story and hope the players follow it.

          Anyway, that´s cool. The best story you can tell is the one which emerges in play, in which both you and all of your players are interested. That´s the reason that my group and me always choose the campaign concept colaboratively, or at least wait until they choose their objectives/create their characters before working on the chronicle.

          What I do, and what I have found usually works, is creating a setting. Design the place where you will be playing (from a city, for a very local game, to a collection of kingdoms and tribes and what have you for a more expansive game), populate it with cool conflicts, and places, and NPCs, and mix them. Before you notice, the interaction between players and NPCs (or the logical interactions between the NPCs themselves) will start giving you plot ideas, and knowing what to do. Try not to write isolated NPCs: Okay, Cynis Talora and Hundred Heavens Bride may both be cool characters, awesome even, but if they don´t have conflicts with other characters in the setting, or don´t have passionate, obsessive objectives, or don´t want anything from the players, they won´t be useful for the game. Passionate, driven characters are what, well, drive a game.

          At most, generate a general situation, and let the story flow from that. Don´t make your chronicle about how the players unify the Fifteen Tribes of Khaldor, recover the Rock-Crusher and use them to drive back the Realm from their region. Make it about how the Realm is invading Khaldor, the home-country of the players. Do the players unify the Tribes, hoping to be able to defend their country from the imperialists? Do they quests for a ground-shattering weapon, missheard from ancient tales? Do they betray their peoples and join the Realm, thinking that this could avoid bloodshed, and better be humiliated than dead? Do they do that, to later betray the Realm again? Do they lose from the beginning, forced to become a guerrilla movement, and later search for Dark Powers to which sell their souls in exchange of the power to free their people? I don´t know what they will do, but what I know is that it probably will be awesome, and a good story.

          Build a place. Be sure it is awesome, and full of awesome people. Steal from other sources if you need. Trust in your players, I am sure they are awesome. Enjoy.


          • #6
            I set up a basic adventure well aware that Exalted PCs have shortcuts and means to shrug off otherwise certain death.
            When it's over I ask "then what?" and keep asking that as they dig themselves deeper and deeper into trouble adding in new adventures every so often, most notably when a new PC gets added which can mean sometimes they're riding the success waves of multiple adventures at once.

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            • #7
              * Talk to your players about what kinds of stories they are interested in. High action? Nation building? Wandering heroes righting wrongs?

              * Determine what the current status quo is. The status quo should be something that either the players and their characters will want to challenge, or will want to protect.

              * Create at least four NPCs; two that overtly benefit from and support the status quo, and two that overtly suffer from and would change the status quo. Then, secretly change one of the supporters of the status quo to someone who wants to change it (either out of principle or for personal gain or a tie or whatever), and one of the detractors into a secret supporter (again- either out of principle, or because they covertly benefit from the status quo in a non-obvious way, or out of fear that change might bring something worse).

              * Entangle the PCs; give them a tie which is at odds with their other intimacies (friendship with a noble that is oppressing the people, hired to deal with bandits that are actually righteous rebels, etc).

              * Shake well and stand back.

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              • #8
                Of the styles listed so far, mine most closely resembles that of Lioness. I typically have a set end point for the story. I think a lot of this discussion revolves on the differences between Serialized/Episodic play and set length narrative. Both can work, but player and ST expectations need to be discussed beforehand, and it’s absolutely critical to have player buy in before attempting a long form narrative game. Just my .02


                • #9
                  I could probably formulate some useful general advice but it's late and I'm feeling rambley, so let me tell you a story ...

                  When I first played Exalted, the game started out with a local scope, based in Nexus. We built connections to the local authorities, expanded our influence, built up our base (we had a mercenary company), took part in local politics, tried to make the city a better place while advancing our own interests. It was great. We felt a real sense of ownership of what we were doing, the ST was great at challenging us with new scenarios and rolling with the consequences of our actions to come up with more challenges, and our version of Nexus developed a real sense of place and character of its own. Our characters had lives there, despite being called to adventure. We started testing the waters beyond Nexus and considering our long-term goals.

                  Then it changed. We were pulled out of that local scope, before we were ready, and thrust into the tumultuous sea of world-spanning plots known "affectionately" in the fandom as the Thousand Dooms. Gone was the relevance of our previous efforts on the local stage, gone was any sense of exploration as we were jerked across Creation from one urgent crisis to another with no time to breathe or reflect. We were doing more "epic" and "badass" things than before, but the game was lacking its earlier charm.

                  When it came time for me to design my own campaign, I knew I wanted that sense of place and character for the little slice of the setting the PCs would call home, and for my players to have that sense of ownership over their goals. I also knew I was in trouble, because I wanted to use several Creation-spanning threats as major plot elements. So I set out to tame the Thousand Dooms.
                  1. I knew I wanted to include the legions of Hell, the fae hordes, and the machinations of the deathlords as pressing threats to Creation, but I didn't want these threats to stifle the players with their urgency, so I stretched out the count-down so that these threats would become overwhelming in a matter of decades, not months or years. To do this I gave Creation defences that could hold the bulk of their strength at bay, but which were slowly failing.
                  2. I wanted the threats to be in progress when the game began, so in order that the players not be overwhelmed by the urgency and scope of the threats, I made sure that they didn't know about them. Not because the Dooms were biding their time, but because the conflicts were actively hidden from most of the world. The battle for Creation was playing out as a secret war that the PCs could discover and get involved in, with each faction vying for the decisive opportunity they needed to save the world or end everything.
                  3. In order to complement the "vast conspiracy" storyline and facilitate the sort of world-trotting that facing down the Thousand Dooms tends to call for, I decided on a modern setting. It's also easier to have down-time at home between missions when travel doesn't take weeks.
                  4. Having deprived the Dooms of their terrible, all-consuming urgency, I ensured they still had teeth by dialing up the horror. In this case, the horror was inherent not only in what Creation's enemies were up to but what Creation's defenders had already had to do to prevent the apocalypse, and the fact that their blasphemous sacrifice had only been enough to buy them time. The first Act consisted of the PCs finding their feet and pursuing their own goals while slowly uncovering the Horrible Truth (tm).
                  5. Since the threat to Creation was horrific but not imminent, the PCs had time to explore what was going on and decide how to approach the situation, seeking allies, contacts, artifacts etc, stepping onto the world stage at their own pace on their own terms, for the most part. Since the threat was hidden from the general population, life in Creation went on, and so their lives went on as well. They had to juggle friendships, families and careers around their growing involvement with the war. They had time to pursue agendas not related to the looming apocalypses competing to destroy Creation, and to help each other achieve these goals (when not accidentally hindering each other instead).
                  And it's worked. One PC has responded to finding out about the Dooms by taking up Crafting to try to build a solution, or at least understand the problem, while staying involved in Tengese politics by spinning a web of espionage around rival houses (that occasionally pulls in the rest of the party). One has gone from being a teenage pit-fighter to a well-respected military officer (though after some rash choices last session her career might be shot to hell). One helped develop a vaccine for a mind-altering virus created by the deathlords, but also got the group involved in taking down a corrupt dragonblooded general whose plots threatened the group of rebels whose cause she had taken up. One of them continues to take the odd case as a PI while also honing his sorcerous skills and magical knowledge to help in the fight, and has spent a lot of time chasing the unanswered questions of his past. Through it all they've built an organisation of their own design that has become instrumental to the war effort. They're movers and shakers in the hidden power structures of Creation, poised to finally put a decisive end to the struggle and save the whole world like the big damn heroes they are - and their personal struggles have never stopped mattering to the story.

                  Anyway, the moral of all of this is probably to keep your story grounded in the personal regardless of how grand the scope of the campaign is, or something.

                  "Measure of Hope is right about everything." - Wise Old Guru

                  Currently running an Exalted 2.5 Abyssals game in a homebrew modern shard because I value neither my time or my sanity, and I'm loving almost every minute of it.


                  • #10
                    You don't.

                    You design a setting, and the players write the story through their actions.

                    If that sounds difficult.... Yeah, it is. Not gonna lie. But, it is -immensely- satisfying.


                    • #11
                      Exalted plays very well as a sandbox game. Every single attempt at anything resembling a story has crashed and burned quite quickly.

                      Know who is in the area what they want and are doing, events that are going on, and release the players into the sandbox and revel in the glory of the players smashing everyone else's sand castles.


                      • #12
                        A lot of the posters here made some good points that I won’t repeat.

                        Something that I will say is I’ve had a more recent tendency to come up with a thousand different, unrelated stories. The thing with exalts, Solars especially, is if you have one big problem they tend to just be able to solve it really quickly, regardless of how big that problem is. So to give time for a story with actual growth I tend to run with a big list of locations in my setting and a horrible problem at each location. Then through those adventures my characters tend to evolve and grow and usually keep running into the same NPCs to form bonds there, for better or worse. Plus this also stops the PCs from getting frustrated in a long game with not being able to deal with their real enemy for like 8 sessions, the little victories help.

                        Sometimes there might be one big bad thing that sets off most of the little problems, but they’re separated from them by a good chunk. Another thing I do is rather than like low-level DnD where I might put thought into a plan on how to deal with things, in exalted generally I throw a problem at them with zero obvious solutions and let them figure it out.


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Hark View Post
                          Exalted plays very well as a sandbox game. Every single attempt at anything resembling a story has crashed and burned quite quickly.

                          Know who is in the area what they want and are doing, events that are going on, and release the players into the sandbox and revel in the glory of the players smashing everyone else's sand castles.
                          I...honestly hearing all of these points made, I guess my play experience is the exception?? I had a narrative that Ran 2.5 full years playing ever other weekend. It was not in anyway a sandbox design as everyone else has been talking, but a full on long form narrative story. So *shrug*. Also the games of Exalted I participated in where fully fleshout narrative games.


                          • #14
                            Yeah, in Exalted I like to come up with problems I don't believe are solvable, and watch my players try to solve them. Sometimes they brute Force it with the power sometimes they get clever, and half the time they solve it in a way that creates three new problems. Rinse and repeat.

                            Also, I tend to have timelines for what major NPCs are doing in the backyard. The Time of Tumult feels more tumultuous when they're getting news and rumors of wars or coups or religious movements or newly formed shadowland in neighboring countries they haven't visited yet.

                            So I'm making God-Kicking Boot, an Exalted webcomic, now. Updates on Sundays. Full-color, mediocre but slowly improving art. It's a thing.

                            The absence of a monument can, in its own way, be something of a monument also.
                            -Roger Zelazny


                            • #15
                              Joseph Manola's romantic fantasy how-to is also helpful. (It's ostensibly for a specific playstyle in a specific system, but I think it works fine as a GMing best practices guide as well.)

                              Evocations for the demonic tattoos gained from the Pact with Mara sorcerous initiation || Pyre-Kindler (Soulsteel and Red Jade Grimscythe, Artifact 3) || Tenebrous Descent (Stormcaller's Black Jade Reaver Daiklave cousin, Artifact 5)
                              Advice for running the corebook shikari antagonists