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  • The West and What Works At Your Table?

    I'm in the planning stages for a 3e game set in the west and I could use your help, lovely people. I've been out of circulation for Exalted for several years (dropped off somewhere between 2e and 2.5e) and am ready to get back in and it seems like I've missed A LOT . Chiefly what I'm looking for help with is the setting of the west and how best to handle it. I'm a veteran ST and I'm familiar with my players, but I don't know how to make a western campaign interesting for them. In the past, the west was largely out of bounds because of the group of folks I gamed with. We spend most of our time in the Scavenger Lands and the north. So what I want to know is what makes the west interesting for you? Do you play on land or at sea (and above or below the water?) most? What do you do to keep descriptions of settings interesting? How much do you gloss over travel times? How often do you let things like spirits or your characters' gender affect the story? What's the most exciting/entertaining canon location you like to play in? I've got my reading cut out for me, surely (for instance, I don't even know what The Caul is on that map I linked below), but beyond pure research and (re)familiarization with the setting and system, I want to know what makes it fun for people. I want to be a good ST.

    Some stuff I'm going to be using a lot, shared here for sheer usefulness. If you've got other links I should check out, throw 'em at me
    Random Island/Location Generator for Exalted by Brilliant Rain
    Travel Times Map by ? (found it on the useful links thread)

  • #2
    First of all, wow. It's been a while!

    I certainly like the potential of random western islands for their ability to create interesting bottle cultures, they also make for good random encounters since longer voyages between the major archipelagos are invariably going to involve stopping at islands to resupply.

    Sex/Gender is something I tend to leave up to players if they want to engage with it.



    Onyx Path Forum Moderator
    Please spare a thought for updating the Exalted wiki.

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    • #3
      I haven't run a game in the West yet in 3e, so some of your questions I can't help with, or at least don't have direct experience with them as they apply to the West. I'll do what I can, though!

      First, "what makes the West interesting" - this, of course, is a huge question with lots of possible answers. For me, though, the answer kind of hinges on two elements: first, the possibility of "contained" stories is stronger there than pretty much anywhere else in Creation. What I mean by that is that, due to the inherent difficulty of mortal travel and communication, it's easy to say "you travel to an island where no one has ever heard of you, and solve its particular problem". This isn't absolute, of course - as the PCs go about making a stir, eventually people will hear about them and their previous exploits. But it's still pretty easy to say that the particular tiny island the PCs are going to hasn't had time for the news to reach them yet. All that means that the West is probably the best place in Creation to play the "wandering heroes" style of game.

      Second, of course, there's the fact that I find seafaring an interesting style of game. If you want to make sea travel a big factor in the adventure, the West is one of the places to do it. There are other locations, of course - 3e has made a point of putting in more seas and oceans on its map. But the West is still the best, as far as I'm concerned.

      For keeping descriptions interesting, I'd say the key is to think of two or three things at each new location that's distinct and different than most other places, and make sure to layer those into your descriptions. This can be cover quite a lot of things - what sort of things the locals believe, practice, or the objects they use, the physical landscape of the location, various metaphysical things, and so on. For example, say your players are travelling to Yet Another Polynesian Island Knockoff. This can get boring, of course, but if you describe the inhabitants as all wearing some vividly blue-dyed cloth, mention that they seem to have a breed of coconut that comes naturally fermented into coconut liqueur, and bring up the fact that tiny fire elementals shaped like salamanders "burrow" into the beaches by fusing the sand into glass tunnels, you'll probably catch the players' attention and ensure it doesn't feel like just another island.

      On travel times, I prefer to keep games relatively "grounded", to emphasize the fact that, even though the characters are Exalted, they're still human, with human concerns. Also, if travel is too easily glossed over, it kind of makes sorcerers with spells like Stormwind Rider, or characters who've invested in charms like Mountain-Crossing Leap, feel less impressive. So, I prefer to calculate travel times, and describe at least something of what happens during the trip. I try not to bog this down, though - I certainly wouldn't narrate every minute of every day of a two-week sailing voyage. But I would call for a couple of rolls against Sail, if the characters are helping out, and make sure the players got the time to do things like train as well. And I'd probably liven up any journey longer than about a week with an encounter or two, with spirits, weather, sea monsters, pirates, and so on and so forth.

      For things like gender affecting the story, I try to talk to my players beforehand, and determine how much they want it to affect things. Some people are interested in exploring that, while others just want to play their character without too much influence from real-world prejudices and such. Fortunately, I'd say that Exalted makes it pretty easy to take either approach - it's certainly a setting that has prejudices and such in its various cultures, but at the same time, "I'm Exalted" sort of overcomes an awful lot of those, or at least makes people shut up about them. For example, in the West, the Storm Mothers resent women more beautiful than they are, and tend to attack ships, leaving a lot of cultures in the West to have practices forbidding women on ships. But a Storm Mother who attacked an Exalted woman who happened to be more beautiful would probably get her ass kicked good and hard, meaning a smart Storm Mother probably checks on that kind of thing before letting fly with a lightning bolt.

      As for whether spirits should affect things, well, I feel that Exalted's treatment of spirits, with their great diversity and complicated politics and cultures, is one of its strengths, so I'd certainly say that they should affect things, yes. Otherwise, you're leaving out a big part of the fun. That's just my opinion, though. If you don't like spirits, I think you can keep them offstage quite reasonably.

      The Caul is a new region that's been added to the West in 3e. Basically, it's a very large territory that's a bone of contention between the Dragon-Blooded (in the form of the Realm, mostly), and the Lunars. It apparently vanished for some time, and only reappeared relatively recently (within the last few centuries), which reignited the conflict over it. It's a place that's sacred to Luna and Gaia, explaining why the two sides want it. There are a number of shrines on the Caul where, if a Dragon-Blood is worthy enough and can visit all of them, will improve their chances of their next offspring Exalting, and the purity of the Exaltation within that offspring's blood. What, if anything, the Lunars get out of controlling the Caul, is less clear, but hopefully we'll learn more soon. The Caul from the Dragon-Bloodeds' perspective will be covered in the Realm book, which hopefully will come out some time this year, while the Caul from the Lunars' side will get some info in the Lunars sourcebook, which is being Kickstarted in a couple of weeks.

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      • #4
        Islands are fun and you can insert several of essentially any size you want! The West is fun because it’s the new Frontier at the Edge of the World. The Wyld West!


        It is a time for great deeds!

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        • #5
          Isolation between islands and from the Realm (mostly) is one of the themes that I've always found interesting about the West. I'm also a fan of nautical themes and the potential for pirates.


          Check out my RPG podcast: The Story Told
          Follow my ongoing Exalted Campaign: An Imperfect Circle

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          • #6
            I love that Brilliant Rain thread you posted. After he made it, as a thought experiment I turned it into a randomizer sheet. You can play with it if you want, though it's hardly necessary if you're using the thread already. Good luck! I love West games!


            I post Artifacts in this thread. How I make them is in this thread.
            I have made many tools and other things for 3rd Edition. I now host all of my creations on my Google site: The Vault of the Unsung Hero

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            • #7
              I like how the West has lots of mutants and Wyld Zones. And some are underwater.
              So you can have all kinds of bizarre cultures and sea-beastmen.

              My friend did a game where we got stranded in a giant underwater dome inhabited by warring tribes of beastmen who knew basically nothing about the outside world, for example.


              My characters:
              Dr Soma Vaidya, viper-totem Lunar and kung-fu doctor
              Brother Alazar, Zenith occultist and last survivor of the Black Monastery of Leng

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              • #8
                Kelly Pedersen, plenty of good stuff in that post there. I would like to add that doing most of traveling in Exalted as travel montages is pretty nice, I have found.

                In travel montage you can (for example) go around the group and first player describes a problem or situation that comes up and then the next player describes how their character deals with it. They then come up with a situation and so on. This way you get plenty of accidental world building, character depth and interesting situations and situations for characters to do cool stuff, without having to resort to numberless bandits and monsters of the week a la DnD. This way your planned travel encounters and what not also can have bigger impacts.

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                • #9
                  Oh, in terms of travel times, you might find this website useful:

                  http://howsfamily.net/Exalted/map/

                  If you click on it, a little green dot appears. Then click again and it'll give you the distance between the two points, and tell you how long it'll take for a ship to travel that distance.
                  (You may want to check the calculations if there are variables of course, but it tells you the distance which helps work it out.)


                  My characters:
                  Dr Soma Vaidya, viper-totem Lunar and kung-fu doctor
                  Brother Alazar, Zenith occultist and last survivor of the Black Monastery of Leng

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                  • #10
                    Not sure how you plan out your stories, but if you like the travel time theme you could use that to force a lot of prioritization and decisions on the characters.

                    "The treasure you seek is 16 nauts away and probably being approached by your rivals, but revenge for your fallen comrades is 7 nauts away and moving farther. You can reach one, but not the other." (where I'm making up a naut as some numerical or purely cinematic count of travel distance)


                    Check out Momentum Exalted!

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                    • #11
                      I ran a 2nd Ed game set in the West. It's been a few years, but things I remember enjoying:
                      • Creating cultures. As others have noted, every island can be its own little world, with its own people, religion, architecture, and so on. Similarities and differences can make things very interesting when PC's are trying to pull people together for a cause.
                      • The only gender-related matter from that game was one player's choice of a Tya for her character. It became a huge plot point, ultimately ending with most of that society following the PC as her Tiger Warriors.
                      • My games play up the theme of Spirits Gone Wild. Many have abandoned their duties in favor of lording over a set of worshipful islanders or causing mischief for shipping. It's just the sort of problem Exalts excel in solving
                      • On land, Scavenger Lords have spent centuries picking over every ruin they could find. Sea-based vestiges of times past are less likely to be picked clean, but introduce a whole new set of challenges to explore.
                      • I tracked vessel time carefully. Doing so often made Sail Charms feel of greater value to Captain Laughing Gull.
                      • Interactions between Exalts, the many kinds of locals, Realm Houses, the Silver Prince's minions, Fair Folk, and What Lies Beneath provide plenty of fodder for stories of faction-driven intrigue, with the PC's in the middle of it all.
                      Good luck with your game!

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                      • #12
                        Moving between different islands is cool, but one thing I think is neat about island (and West) adventures is how you can double down on one, specific locale and really make it come to life and give players a sense of investment, agency, and consequences. No where is generic, and everywhere is close. Like, if your Solars blow the top off of a mountain with some sorcery effect, they're going to see that crater every time they look out the window. That wildfire they started when they were fighting that elemental could deforest the whole island and take decades before they can, say, build their own ships again. That harbor up north may be the only good place you have to load and unload cargo, so you better be careful how you treat the local spirit.

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                        • #13
                          Rawr. I kept trying to reply and the forum kept eating my post.

                          ::waves at Lioness:: Good to see a familiar face/avatar. I noticed TornadoWolf changed his name AGAIN, lol. I like your suggestion about seeding small islands into longer voyages as resupply depots .

                          Originally posted by Kelly Pedersen View Post
                          I haven't run a game in the West yet in 3e, so some of your questions I can't help with, or at least don't have direct experience with them as they apply to the West. I'll do what I can, though!
                          Wow, did you ever! Thanks I really like the sort of "race condition" effect driven by which islands the PCs have visited and affected and the much more slowly widening circle of influence that will create. We're not big fans of sea travel in this group, so I have a feeling I'll be leaning heavily on location descriptions. Your island description is getting pocketed for later inspiration, for sure.

                          What sounds appropriate to people as far as Sail rolls for extended voyages? Once per day in good weather?

                          Originally posted by Kelly Pedersen View Post
                          For things like gender affecting the story, I try to talk to my players beforehand, and determine how much they want it to affect things.
                          For sure. A lot of the reason we never went there before was because of the strict gender roles that ran through the canon narrative in 1e and 2e (spirits being a big part of that). Emotions at the table got heated when discussions of the setting came up, so I just avoided it so the game could stop being derailed. I like the gender split (women on land/men on sea) as a thing the players can overcome through "sheer awesome", so I don't like leaving it out entirely but will depend on the players to tell me at what level they want it to feature.

                          Thanks for the summary on the Caul, that sounds like it has a lot of potential. I always wanted there to be more substance in the canon on the Luna/Gaia relationship.

                          Originally posted by The Unsung Hero View Post
                          I love that Brilliant Rain thread you posted. After he made it, as a thought experiment I turned it into a randomizer sheet. You can play with it if you want, though it's hardly necessary if you're using the thread already. Good luck! I love West games!
                          I did the same myself Thanks for posting the link to yours!

                          Originally posted by The Wizard of Oz View Post
                          I like how the West has lots of mutants and Wyld Zones. And some are underwater.
                          So you can have all kinds of bizarre cultures and sea-beastmen.
                          My brain keeps prodding me to make a tropical reef-themed underwater wyld barbarian tribe. The visuals are just too fun not to play with in an aquatic environment. The challenge is we're going to be starting as mortals so ... I dunno how well that's gonna work, heh.

                          Originally posted by Asoral View Post
                          Kelly Pedersen, plenty of good stuff in that post there. I would like to add that doing most of traveling in Exalted as travel montages is pretty nice, I have found.
                          I LOVE this. The group I have is one that would do well with this kind of challenge.

                          Originally posted by Simon Darkstep View Post
                          Not sure how you plan out your stories, but if you like the travel time theme you could use that to force a lot of prioritization and decisions on the characters.
                          I've had fun with video games that do this and may have to build it into (one of) my story arc(s).

                          Originally posted by Otto D'Fey View Post
                          I tracked vessel time carefully. Doing so often made Sail Charms feel of greater value to Captain Laughing Gull.
                          Oooh, good tip, thanks! I intended to do so if only for my own OCD-ish-ness, but this gives me a "more valid" reason to.

                          Originally posted by Blackwell View Post
                          Moving between different islands is cool, but one thing I think is neat about island (and West) adventures is how you can double down on one, specific locale and really make it come to life and give players a sense of investment, agency, and consequences. No where is generic, and everywhere is close. Like, if your Solars blow the top off of a mountain with some sorcery effect, they're going to see that crater every time they look out the window. That wildfire they started when they were fighting that elemental could deforest the whole island and take decades before they can, say, build their own ships again. That harbor up north may be the only good place you have to load and unload cargo, so you better be careful how you treat the local spirit.
                          This. On a stage the scale of Creation, consequences can be easily left behind. I like this and have to figure out how to make it have maximum impact.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by goddessgood View Post
                            What sounds appropriate to people as far as Sail rolls for extended voyages? Once per day in good weather?
                            If that. I could see doing one per week. I'd throw in some Survival rolls as well, to keep on course. To make those more meaningful, I'd recommend they not be "if you pass, you're on course, if you fail, you're lost". Rather, set the base difficulty and say that result is "on course within a reasonable margin of error" (perhaps 20% of the estimated time), and then let failure increase that margin, and success decrease it. So, navigating from from Brightwork to the easternmost island in the Skullstone Archipelago, about 500 miles, might require a difficulty 3 (Intelligence + Survival) roll to navigate. If the navigator makes it exactly, the journey is actually 600 miles, taking into account drifting off course, avoiding hazards, etc. If they fail by 1 or 2, it might end up being 800 miles, whereas if they wind up with 5 successes, they travel only 525 miles. And they're only "totally lost" on a botch.

                            Another thing I've been thinking about, for any kind of situation where you're calling for a bunch of rolls to measure progress towards some kind of goal, is to try to make sure that, for each roll, that there's some kind of choice for the players to make. I find that, absent that, a bunch of rolls just sort of kills drama. If the characters are likely to make all of them, you're basically just hunting for a bad die roll. And if they're not likely, a long series of rolls doesn't really increase dramatic tension, it just has people dreading the inevitable failure. But if you present each roll as a choice, there's some room for player agency. Succeed or fail, the results of the roll feel more under their control, rather than simply being random luck. To return to the sailing journey example, when sailing from Brightwork to Skullstone, you could initially ask the players if they wanted to sail straight northwest across the ocean, or if they preferred to island-hop west first, and only turn north when they were closer to Skullstone. The difficulty of the first would be 3, but would be shorter overall distance-wise, while the second would involve two rolls at lower difficulty, but would involve travelling further.

                            Originally posted by goddessgood
                            A lot of the reason we never went there before was because of the strict gender roles that ran through the canon narrative in 1e and 2e (spirits being a big part of that). Emotions at the table got heated when discussions of the setting came up, so I just avoided it so the game could stop being derailed.
                            Absolutely fair! If your group doesn't want to bring that up, I think it's reasonable to avoid it. Real-life prejudice can hit home to the players, so it's a touchy subject. My main approach, if prejudice causes conflict, is to eliminate the prejudice in the setting, not enforce it or sustain it by downplaying it. In the case of the West, I'd simply drop the whole element of "women can't go on boats", rather than try to discourage people from playing sailing women, or avoiding having female sailor NPCs.

                            Originally posted by goddessgood
                            I like the gender split (women on land/men on sea) as a thing the players can overcome through "sheer awesome", so I don't like leaving it out entirely but will depend on the players to tell me at what level they want it to feature.
                            I think another good way to think about things like this in general is to assume the reasons for the prejudice still exist, but a) assume that people will want to overcome it, and b) the ways they choose to do that will be varied. That lets you have stories about prejudice and overcoming it, without them all being the same story, or background. Using the Storm Mothers and the West as examples, the Tya are clearly one way women have tried to overcome their assigned role, but I would have them be only an example, not the universal way everybody in the West did it (I think 2e, in particular, kind of over-emphasized the Tya, treating them as a universal thing in the West, rather than just a specific form that overcoming prejudice took). So you could have a culture where women who wanted to go to sea ritually scarred themselves so that Storm Mothers thought they weren't beautiful, one where larger ships were ritually covered with dirt and declared "land" so that women could go on them, one where the culture made a bargain with their local Storm Mother that allowed a woman to go on a ship as long as she survived a ritual "drowning" first, and so on.

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                            • #15
                              I agree with Kelly, if the weather is good, there's nothing complicated going on, and they're following a known stable trade wind, an Intelligence+Sail roll at the beginning to plot the right course should be fine for a week, then roll to make sure they're still on it.
                              If there's bad weather or difficult reefs or something, then you can roll.

                              I'd probably have them make more rolls per week for a short trip than for a long trip. If they sail for 3 days, I might have them roll 1-2, a week 2, 2 weeks still 2, a month 3, three months 4.
                              Basically, because making a lot of rolls isn't that interesting.

                              And I'm not sure I'd always give them a decision to make, but there should definitely be some kind of scene or event at least (a decision is fine if one's appropriate). Like "the winds are changing" or "there's a pirate ship on the horizon, you need to outrun it." Just to make a long trip a bit more interesting.

                              Originally posted by goddessgood
                              My brain keeps prodding me to make a tropical reef-themed underwater wyld barbarian tribe.
                              That sounds really cool.

                              Originally posted by Kelly Pederson
                              So you could have a culture where women who wanted to go to sea ritually scarred themselves so that Storm Mothers thought they weren't beautiful, one where larger ships were ritually covered with dirt and declared "land" so that women could go on them, one where the culture made a bargain with their local Storm Mother that allowed a woman to go on a ship as long as she survived a ritual "drowning" first, and so on.
                              These are all interesting and fun ideas.


                              My characters:
                              Dr Soma Vaidya, viper-totem Lunar and kung-fu doctor
                              Brother Alazar, Zenith occultist and last survivor of the Black Monastery of Leng

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